Mormon Exaltation in Light of Theosis


The Eastern view of theosis (at least from Gregory Palamas and on) has at its heart the “incommunicable ESSENCE” of God. This essence is absolutely beyond the ability to experience, enter into, … for the human. It is God’s ENERGIES that are completely part of the deified human, but the essence if forever beyond.
This is at odds with Thomist views which claim that the beautific vision consists of God’s essence and energies not merely His energies.
If it matters, here is a section from David Bradshaw in Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom, pages 255-256:

Aquinas’ teaching on the beatific vision exhibits with particular clarity the difference separating him from the eastern tradition. The most immediately obvious is that, whereas for the East God is beyond knowing, Aquinas regards Him as the highest intelligible object. Aquinas is aware of this disagreement. In the De Veritate he cites a long string of objections to the possibility of seeing God through His essence, and among them are several drawn from Dionysius and John of Damascus. The most fundamental, which Aquinas attributes to Dionysius, is that “all cognition is of things that are; God, however, is no a being, but is above being; therefore, He cannot be known except by transcendent knowledge, which is divine knowledge.” Aquinas’ reply is worth quoting in full:

“Dionysius’ argument proceeds from the knowledge had while in this life. This is had from forms in existing creatures, and, consequently, it cannot attain to what is transcendent. Such is not the case, however, of the vision had in heaven. His argument, therefore, is not pertinent to the problem at hand.”

What for Dionysius had been a limitation inherent to the relation between creature and Creator become for Aquinas one imposed solely by our current ways of knowing. It is worth noting that Aquinas’ position had been considered and rejected by St. Gregory of Nyssa. In his Contra Eunomium Gregory denies that the ousia of God is known even to the angels, precisely in order to insist that this limitation is not due solely to human ways of knowing but is an intrinsic limitation of the creature. Gregory’s writings were not available to Aquinas, however, and even if they had been it is unlikely that Aquinas would have changed his mind. He notes at the beginning of this article of the De Veritate that the denial that God can be seen through His essence had already been judged heretical. This judgment occurred at the University of Paris in 1241, in the rejection of the proposition that “the divine essence will be seen in itself neither by man nor by angel.” In his Commentary on Hebrews Aquinas attributes the rejected view to Eriugena, who in turn (unknown to Aquinas) depended for this point on St. Maximus the Confessor. One could hardly find a more string example of the misunderstanding between the two halves of Christendom: a view that Aquinas regards as heretical had, unknown to him, been orthodox in the East since at least the fourth century.

This is tangentially related to the material / immaterial discussion already mentioned, but it really goes much deeper. I do not believe firm dogmatism exists on either side, but things like the Filioque clause are related and there is a lot of dogmatism concerning this of course.
If it is not obvious from the above I think the idea of deification in Aquinas’ thought is closer to the idea I espouse as a LDS than is the idea of Palamas. My experience with most Western Christians is after they come to grips with what is quite universally taught concerning “men can become gods” they immediately borrow from centuries of Eastern Orthodox understanding without recognizing that there are some foundational conflicts they have overlooked.

I will say however, for my part of it I do not think Eastern, Western, or LDS Christians (myself) included have such a perfect understanding of what it is to become gods that such distinctions should be points that are so filled with vilification for the others views (which doesn’t stop me from being all too convinced that my LDS understanding is more true and more in line with the ECF than the other understandings …. )
Charity, TOm



Your Mormon circles are unlike any that I travel in.
Christ was sinless. We cannot be sinless.
Christ was divine before mortality. We were not.
Christ was divine in mortality, we are not.
I cannot help what you heard from some LDS. You could have heard from me discussion of ontology and essence, but that is separate from “divinity as such.”
Did Christ have 10 fingers and 10 toes like I do, I expect so. But in the most important ways He was quite greater.

Now, concerning “Joseph Smith just made it up.” For me such is profoundly unlikely. There are multiple interconnecting concepts in Joseph Smith’s teachings that for a framework upon which an understanding of Deification can be built. It is clear that Joseph never put these together, but it is remarkable that his departure from the Christian understanding of his day in a few places fits together to make a more coherent view of deification than I think exists in Eastern Orthodox or Catholicism.

  • Joseph taught that men can become gods. This was a remarkable claim for the burned over district in upstate NY.
  • Joseph taught that the concept of the Trinity as expressed by most folks which they steer clear of tri-theism is not accurate nor necessary to claim there is one God.
  • And Joseph Smith departed from the Christian understanding of “creation ex nihilo” in a way that IMO is VERY important to a LDS understanding of deification. Of note here is the view of many scholars that Creation ex Nihilo is not present before the late second century (and was first put forth by a gnostic) see Gerard May’s book Creatio ex Nihilo.

So, in response to your “he just made it up,” I say not only do I disagree, but I believe such a “creation ex nihilo” of a doctrine of deification would be extraordinary. Joseph couldn’t read Irenaeus like you and I can today and yet ….
Charity, TOm



IMO it is no more appropriate to suggest that the God-man Jesus Christ “descended from prokaryotic cells” that it is to suggest that what is essentially human about us “descended from prokaryotic cells.” Where do you stand on this question? Did Mary the Mother of God descend from prokaryotic cells? Did Christ? Do you? Or would it be more appropriate to say that something from God is what is essential to us. Be that things called “the breath of life” “the Spirit” “the Soul” or …. There is much more there.
I would say that when the Bible claims Christ is in the image of His Father, and when it says that we are to be “conformed to the image” of Christ, this is MUCH MUCH more than merely morphology.
As I mentioned above, one of the interweaving truths that contributes to the LDS understanding of “men becoming gods” is that fact that creation ex nihilo is not viewed as a true doctrine.
My view of deification also does not allow for the deified human to be “complete in our own divine inherences.” We become gods, but to be gods is to be in union with God. Whatever our post deification path may be, it will not involve the severing of our ties with the “fons divinitatis;” such could not be.
If you have a few weeks you could read the Exploring Mormon Thought series by Blake Ostler. Most (maybe all so far) of what I am saying is from his books.
Charity, Tom



Where did Joseph Smith say we will not possibly become equal with God?

As for the difference in Trinidadian theology between east and west I’m not sure how exactly that establishes a point in favour of the patristics echoing Mormon theology. Pajamas and Aquinas both would reject the Mormon concept of God and Mormon theosis which involves imitating God in the next life in eternally begetting spiritual children via a heavenly Mother and Father.

While there might have been some in the early church who might have believed God physical, these never seemed the majority nor can they be demonstrated as being particularly early. That and later patristics who use the same language and clearly view God in higher terms than Mormonism don’t reject that thesis language. Thus the case for a Mormon thesis theology found in the fathers seems wanting.



I traveled in Mormon circles in the 1970’s when Mormons still followed Mormon Doctrine and the teachings of Joseph Smith. The Mormon who made that claim must have been thinking about a teaching of Joseph Smith.

  1. Men can become gods.
  2. There exist many gods.
  3. The gods exist one above another innumerably.
  4. God was once as man now is.
  5. God and the spirit of man are uncreated

I don’t think requirements 3 and 4 can be found in the New Testament and requirement 4 seems to be contrary to the New Testament.

Mormon teaching on deification/exaltation is not what you claim it to be.

It is not polytheism and it is not Mormon teaching.



Tom, I have read a number of times and visited a LDS bookstore years ago to find out what Mormons believe.

And Mormons believe in becoming gods. And it is becoming standardized into Christianity that some day Mormonism will finally accept the Trinity and we will be one. I believe the Blessed Mother…who has been shunned…as I read a former Mormon woman now Catholic state, they were discouraged from studying anything of her.

I believe, out of faith, it will be Mary who will be instrumental in drawing the Mormons into Christianity.



It sounds as if you’re taking the path of humility, which I appreciate but know is not a path every Mormon takes. What you’ve described is just what an orthodox view of theosis teaches us: “to be gods is to be in union with God.” I ask the question, are we united to God in His essence, or is there something superseding God Himself, namely, this abstract “intelligence” that Mormonism commonly speaks of? What does it mean to grow in intelligence? What is godhood? Theologians tend not to speak in terms of what God possesses, because everything He possesses ought to emanate from His very essence; therefore, He is ipsum esse subsistens, and all His attributes are essential personages of His nature: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now, this isn’t the language of some compromising Platonist-Christians of the Early Church; this is the voice of reason. And that’s fine if you don’t believe in creatio ex nihilo; just don’t pretend that the Mormon God deserves credit for much other than working with components of nature that were fashioned by a greater force, a force that Mormon theology can’t and won’t identify but that Catholics call God.

And I stand by what I said about our descendency: just because “the soul” is derived from chemistry, doesn’t mean it can’t conform to the image of the soul of God. The point I was making is that Mormonism would lead us to believe that God’s soul is derived from the same chemistry. Contend with this, if you want, but this is the way I’m seeing things.



Did early Christians believe they could become god?

Absolutely not! Again…consider 3,000 years of the darkness of sin and the tremendous death and rising of Christ, breaking the power of sin and death.

Even now, the Lord blesses us from time to time with a sense of communion with Him just as He extended to those who lived long before us. We experience this beautiful presence and communion with Him and all creation, but it is a gift received and we ourselves cannot generate such an experience.

Again, we are to die to self daily and to serve.

We partake in divine grace but we are separate. We are creatures and always will be in praise of Him.



St. Anthanasius was responsible for affirming faith in one God, and we separate as creatures.

His position was if Arianism had persisted, Christianity would have fallen back into polytheism…multiple gods and then eventually back into paganism.

No matter how hard various American founded sects try to affirm theirs as the true church and not the ‘Roman Catholic Church’-- in quotes because the Universal Church is all apostolic patriarchs, – they still are drawing on faith and understanding based on ours.

The American Restorationist sects of the mid 1800’s, if we were to put them into Athanasius’ focus, he would say there has not been enough time for them. We see the decline of Protestant mainline churches. Generations generally break down as what happened to Christians under the rule of Islam as was the case in Asia Minor; they fell in two generations due to dhimmitude and little livelihood.

We don’t have that environment here. And we see standardization towards Christianity by Mormons and a better attitude towards Catholics now than in times past.



I started a new thread sharing a document which describes areas where some orthodox Christian thought is moving in the LDS direction.



Could you provide a link?





I expect there are more, but the quote I was thinking of was quoted by Stephen where Joseph Smith said that after he was lifted up by God he, Joseph Smith, would present his deification to God and this would add to God. LDS thought had many ideas within Process Theology long before Whitehead. God is the self-surpassing surpasser of all, but God is not a static being in absolute perfection.
Again what I am sharing is not new and unique regardless of how many times Stephen claims it is. You can read about it in the Exploring of Mormon Thought series by Blake Ostler.

I mentioned the filoque clause because it is related to the DISCONNECT between Palamas and Aquinas concerning the ability to commune with God in His true essence or not. Aquinas claimed humans could enjoy God’s essence (Aquinas would say this happened in the beautific vision), Palamas said humans could not experience, apprehend, or come in contact with God’s essence at all. All but a very rarified group of Catholics until about 20 years ago largely denied that men could become gods. Today it is common for Catholics to claim that they like Eastern Orthodox believe in theosis, but the theosis of EOs is Palamas’s thought and is incompatible with Aquinas’s thought at a very basic level (and Aquinas knew it).
That being said, you are correct that Aquinas and Palamas and LDS thinkers all disagree with one another in very fundamental ways does not make LDS correct.

SEEMED is an important word here. Arians never seemed the majority based upon the THEOLOGICAL writings we have from Arians and non-Arians, but the historical writings very clearly show that there were a few decades where most Bishops and church leaders were Arians. And according to Bennet’s book published recently by Catholic Answers the Arians were the deep thinkers of the debate. Do you really think that they didn’t write volumes of theological works?
Much of what I see as the CHANGE in doctrines is a product of the more sophisticated folks grappling to understand the deposit of faith WITHOUT revelation to guide them.
One of the reasons Augustine rejected Christianity was because the ignorant Christians believed that God was embodied. It was St. Ambrose who disabused him of this “misconception.” But Augustine’s mother St. Monica never gave Augustine any reason to believe otherwise.
Paulsen’s essay in HTR is excellent. I am not sure I have the text of his essay any longer, but I can link you to much of his argument in other locations if you like.
Oh… and earlier you mentioned Origin. Origin was a rejecter of the idea that God was embodied. He was merely explaining that some educated Christians believed it in his day.

First, your “this means that” is not near as solid as you seem to imply and it is certainly not logically necessitated.
There are no Patristic writings before the time of Athanasius that limit the FINAL state of deified man. After the mid to late second century when Christianity accepted the originally gnostic view of creation ex nihilo, there was a large gap that needed to be bridge for God to deify mankind, but it was not until the fourth century that the big thinkers decided that this gap as only partially bridgeable.
From the Bible through the second, third, fourth (and beyond) centuries the exchange formula was boldly proclaimed, “God become man so man can become divine.” The church has defined “God’s becoming” in very complete and absolute terms, but the other half of the exchange formula is today almost universally denied in these terms despite the fact that no ECF gives us cause to deny the other half (and again in human’s post mortal completed journey). Modern Catholic scholars/apologists actually say that when ancient ECF said “partake” (koinōnoi) referring to Christ’s becoming man, they mean the word one way and when in the other half of a sentence they say man can “partake” (koinōnoi) they mean the same word in a different (but related way). I believe this is 99% reading what DEVELOPED Christianity believes into what ancient Christianity says. The other 1% is merely the refusal to see that Creation ex Nihilo is also a developed framework that colors ONLY the initial state of mankind.

Charity, TOm



I claim that Mormon teaching is what Blake Ostler claims Mormon teaching is.
I do not claim that the CoJCoLDS has anything like a CCC that can be used to resolve the different interpretation.
Theology has not and does not hold the sway within Mormonism that it holds in Catholicism.

It would seem that you think I must choose between your version of Mormonism or your version of Catholicism. I see zero reason to believe your version of Mormonism is truer to God’s version of Mormonism than is mine and numerous reasons to reject your version of Mormonism. If rejecting Mormonism through your more simple and polemic understanding of it is important to you that is fine, but I will not follow you.
Charity, TOm



I once participated in an article (that was not published by HTR unfortunately) titled, “Are Christians Mormon?”
I like you find it better to celebrate the moves you see. And it is clear to me that I regularly express my views and Stephen’s strongest criticism is not that they are wrong but that they are not Mormon enough (perhaps not Mormon enough for him to condemn, or so it seems to me). I also celebrate as I see the post Vatican II Catholic church move in some ways closer to Mormonism.
May love for the Virgin Mary work on all our hearts.
Oh… and you needn’t believe your ex-Mormon friend well understood the CoJCoLDS view of Mary or you can. Like Origin’s witness of an embodied God who he rejected, Elder McConkie witnessed that some LDS brought to him an essay criticizing the Catholic Church’s view of the Virgin Mary, but Elder McConkie said he was unwilling to support such things. “Can we speak too highly of her whom the Lord has blessed above all women? There was only one Christ, and there is only one Mary,” Elder McConkie stated.
Charity, TOm



I appreciate your assessment and I am surely unworthy. I will say that if I ever find a religious tradition within which everyone always follows the “path of humility” I will have to think about joining (and if I did such a claim would cease to be 100% true).

There is a lot here. You seem to have embrace much of the philosophical concepts associated with God as understood through Catholic history. Aquinas did not INTRODUCE new and original concepts so much as he explained what the most educated and informed Christians (in the West) believed in his day.
I maintain that Western Christians and LDS should believe that we are united to God in his ESSENCE despite the problems this introduces in other areas.
I will link you at a fairly old Catholic Answer thread where I try to flesh out some of “divinity as such.” There are IMO aspects regularly offered within Catholic thought for “divinity as such” that virtual empty the concept of men becoming gods of any meaning. If to be divine is to have never sinned, then men cannot become divine. If to be divine is to exist “a se” then men cannot be divine. If to be divine is to be eternally pure being (ipsum esse subsistens) then men cannot be divine. If to be divine is to have not been created ex nihilo, then (in Catholic thought) men cannot be divine.
I also see you are a “Catholic candidate.” I wonder if you are progressing like Augustine did from non-Christianity to Christianity OR if your Christianity is firmly implanted within you. Let me say this (so Stephen can say “ah ha there it is.”)

While I believe God was solely able to “bara” from unformed matter that which we call matter, and while I believe God as “more intelligent than they all” (meaning more intelligent that the collective sum of all intelligences) and is thus UNIQUELY able to bring about men and lift us to what He is Himself; I can still appreciate the reluctance to reject creation ex nihilo and thereby constrain ones concept of God. The concept of God that claims He is not the sole eternality in the universe NECESSARILY limits God’s absolute sovereignty. I do not think it is possible to exalt God too much so if I did not think creation ex nihilo came with too much baggage, I would be tempted to look for a way to believe it. So, let me just applaud you in this. Being a “Catholic Candidate” is a wonderful thing.
Charity, TOm

I forgot link to other thread, I do not remember where this thread went, I just know in it I tried to define “divinity as such” which you asked about above:



Why did they say “become god?”
It was so ingrained in Early Christian thought that Athanasius used the concept of becoming gods to defend the divinity of Christ. How could Christ make us divine if He was not divine?
You seem to imply that they so gloried in what they could become through Christ that they spoke in flowery words that certainly do not mean what I think they mean. Why were the early Christians so willing to speak like this? Why are modern Christians not?
The existence of groups of folks (today one of the groups is the CoJCoLDS) who believe in deification could not be the reason for the reluctance to speak this way as the Early Christians lived with many folks who believed in deification.
Maybe you think they spoke of deification because it was pollutions from their culture and they were wrong. This is not the Catholic position today, but I have heard Protestants who have little or no use for the ECF say such things.
I was Catholic long before the Internet and the general availability of the writings of the ECF. CCC #460 would have been called heretical by almost every one of my coreligionists. I know this from my own experience and from later experiences. When I read CCC#460 to a LDS friend in my mother’s house, she almost screamed that we do not believe that. She went to Catholic high school and Catholic college. She was raised on the “Baltimore Catechism.”
You are quite willing to say “NO” just as my mother was (and is). But such was not the view in the Early Church. What has changed?
You said, “we are creatures.” Whatever that means, do you not think God could change it. Does God possess the power to lift us from mere “creatures” to gods? Does he desire to not lift us up like this if he has the power? I say that whatever separates us from God is bridgeable by the God of the universe. We merely must chose Him over our self-deification ways.

I have an answer for “What has changed?” that satisfies me and has for many years. The Early Church struggled with what it was for Christ to be God and there to be one God and …. The New Testament teaches two great truths.

  1. Looking to Christ shows us God (God the Father even).
  2. Imitating Christ lifts us to be what Christ is.
    One component of these two underlying concepts is the exchange formula which is already in the Bible and becomes prevalent in St. Irenaeus (there are solid hints in St. Justin). It is there in the earliest writings we have.
    In the second century they embraced the idea that God created ex nihilo (here Justin Martyr witness the older view and Irenaeus the newer). Nothing that elevates God could be too much and clearly this concept elevated God above man.
    From this creation ex nihilo perspective there were huge problems with Christ’s divinity. One of the first heretical solutions was Sabellianism. This was condemned. The LOCAL councils that condemned it said that God the Father and God the Son were simply not homoiusian. Such is not true. Later Arianism claimed that Christ was a created being not co-eternal with God the Father. At Nicea, Biblical terms were proposed to explain how Christ was divine and not the same person as God the Father, but the Arians had no problems with the Biblical terms and could not be excluded. The Arians however would NEVER embrace the term homoiusian with its Sabellian underpinnings. And this was the word chosen. Nicea claimed that God the Father and God the Son were the same ousia and the same hypostasis (later the orthodox interpretation became same ousia and different hypostasis).
    As the church becomes firmly settled on the idea that God the Son was not created ex nihilo and yet mankind is created ex nihilo we see in writings contemporary with Athanasius the first limits placed on the FINAL state of deified mankind.
    Over time the ideas that men can become gods is so deemphasized in the West that it disappears from all but the most scholarly of writings (and the most ancient of liturgies).

What reason do you assign to the above trends?
Charity, TOm



I applaud both halves of your statement.
I truly believe that LDS thought recoiled from the Christianity that they saw as persecuting them, but that as LDS thinkers have faithfully tried to come to grips with what our scriptures (both the Bible and the extra-Biblical scriptures LDS embrace) they have found that some of this recoil was wrong.
I am also a fan of “a better attitude.”
I see Gazelem has linked to and started a thread about the article I mentioned in a previous post (I wrote that post 2 days ago but only posted it on 19Jan).
That article does not have at least one uniquely Catholic change in emphasis. Before Vatican II the sacrament of “Extreme Unction” was not regularly performed on folks who lived. It was for the terminally ill who were about to die. Today “Anointing of the Sick” is performed much like the CoJCoLDS did before and after Vatican II. Here is an article from a Catholic perspective:

I would not start my own church if the Prophet and Pope united under the Pope (and Christ). There are some theological hurtles that would bother me, but as an “authority guy” I would follow my authorities.” And of course I would not start my own church if the Pope and the Prophet united under the Prophet (and Christ).
Charity, Tom



I claim that Mormon teaching on exaltation is what Joseph Smith claims Mormon teaching is. Joseph Smith was the founding ‘prophet’ of Mormonism while Blake was not.

Blake Ostler might be showing how some Mormons are moving toward reason and Christianity.



I claim that Mormon teaching on exaltation is what Joseph Smith claims Mormon teaching is. Joseph Smith was the founding ‘prophet’ of Mormonism while Blake was not.

Blake Ostler might be showing how some Mormons are moving toward reason and Christianity.

Perhaps you misunderstood me.
Maybe this will help.
St. Peter wrote and spoke many truths. He received revelation from God. But Peter was not a systematic theologian. He offered truth as he received it from God, but he did not make explicit what “partake of the divine nature” means.
Thomas Aquinas did not receive public revelation from God. He was a systematic theologian. He took the truths received from God by folks who were inspired and fit them together into as coherent of a whole as he was able.
Joseph Smith was what St. Peter was.
Blake Ostler is what Thomas Aquinas was.
I point to Ostler to suggest that Ostler’s interpretations of Joseph Smith’s revelations are to be preferred to your interpretations of Joseph Smith’s revelations. After all Ostler is a believer and is known as a faithful thinker by conservative and liberal LDS. You are a non-believer and a critic. And I might add, you are a critic who presents a version of Mormonism that I often cannot recognize as connected with what I have experienced in my 20 years as a member. If you cannot properly define my beliefs you cannot adequately critique my beliefs. Aquinas was a master at defining the criticism with which he disagreed. He presented it cogently and powerfully THEN he addressed it. You IMO pound you fist and say “No, Mormonism believes this ridiculous thing and this thing is ridiculous.” Usually you lose me on the first half of this statement because I reject the “ridiculous thing” from long before I ever heard you advocate it.
May we all be more like Aquinas!
Charity, Tom

BTW, your reluctance to read anything is evident in you suggesting that Gazelem is referring to something by Ostler. Gazelem is pointing to an article by David Paulsen. You would know this if you looked, but it would seem for you there is no need to listen to what intelligent LDS claim is LDS belief.


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