Theosis and Theopoiesis


In the Coptic Orthodox Church, there is a movement to reacquire what has been claimed by some to be the historic soteriological understanding within Coptic Orthodoxy (theopoiesis). In distinction, theosis is a byzantine idea, extraneous to authentic CO’xy.

Theopoiesis is also understood to be the proper Western (i.e. Latin) understanding.

Have any members here chanced upon this distinction in your studies?

Any comments would be appreciated.


Theosis and Theopoiesis?

Encountered the distinction: Yes.
Encountered the term Theopoiesis: no.


Dear brother Aramis,

What is the distinction you have heard? Most people seem to use the terms interchangeably. However, the etymology gives a clue to the distinction.

Theosis means “to become god”

Theopoiesis means “to be made god”

I’ve heard/read different explanations about the distinction.

One is that theosis refers to a process whereby we actually become divine (not to the level of God, of course), whereas theopoiesis stresses that divinity is inherently outside of the creature and is acquired only by Grace.

Another distinction is that theosis stresses transformation, whereas theopoiesis stresses adoption.

Another distinction is that theopoiesis allows one to actually reach the limit of the Grace that can be acquired at certain moments (and may even lose it at certain points) in this life) in the process towards perfection, whereas theosis is a never-ending process (like the idea in mathematics of approaching infinity - but never quite doing so)

The end result is the same - sharing in the divine life. And both paradigms understand that salvation is not a one-time event, but is rather a lifelong process that can continue even after physical death.

Do you think these are valid distinctions? Are these distinctions actually divisive differences? Have you heard of any other distinctions besides these?



The latin is that one becomes so close to God that one eventually is in union with God, essentially becoming, after the rapture, part of God. not that one becomes a god. The byzantine Theosis is that one ever become more like God, but never becomes part of God, per se.

That one becomes a god is a heresy.
That one becomes part of God is a theologumenon that can be VERY divisive, but isn’t itself heresy.
That one becomes united to God is a latin theologumenon, but is not itself doctrinal, tho’ neither theosis as fully expressed in Byzantine literature nor enfoldment into the rapture of union to God is counter to the doctrinal belief in becoming ever closer to God.

By their very nature, all theolgumenia are potentially divisive when mistaken for, or promoted to, doctrine and/or dogma.

In both latin, and from what I’ve seen, coptic, theology, the emphasis is on the divine presence changing the faithful to be more like God.

In byzantine, the emphasis is on the opening one’s self up to the grace which God made available, and letting it work, healing the division caused by the fall.


Dear brother Aramis,

Thank you for the explanations. The notions are becoming clearer to me. With regards to your first paragraph, I actually read that it is theosis (not theopoiesis) that emphasizes union with God. Admittedly, I read that from a Protestant, so I’ld rather take your own word for it since you are a Byzantine.

With regards to “becoming part of God,” I’ve read from Latin sources that the greatest Grace received by the Saints is the Beatific Vision, which, it seems to me, does not imply a union, but a state that is definitely distinct from the Godhead. Your reference to the rapture also makes me think that you were reading a Protestant explanation (instead of a Latin Catholic one), since the rapture is not a Latin Catholic teaching. I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to hear from a Latin Catholic directly (if any Latin Catholics out there are reading this - even any Latin Catholics with Melkite ties HINT HINT :D) if “becoming part of God” is a correct interpretation of Latin soteriology.

I have also heard/read that the Syriac Tradition is slightly different from the Byzantine Tradition in this regard (perhaps - not sure - closer to the Coptic Tradition?). I hope some of our brethren from the Syriac family (Maronites, Syro-Malabars/Malankara, Chaldeans, etc.) will join in the discussion.



I have encountered the term theopoieisis in some of my reading on deification. I think that you are making a bit of a distinction where there isn’t one. There might be somewhat of a difference in the soteriology of the EO and the CO but I don’t think that it can be based on the distinction between theosis and theopoieisis. Theopoieisis was one of the original terms used for deification in the early Church.

The EO have a sense of adoption within their idea of deification. For example Seraphim of Sarov in the Holy Spirit mentions it in his Conversation on the Holy Spirit.

The idea of theosis or theopoieisis is essential to Christian faith. It was a driving factor in all of the theological debates. St. Athanasius said that if Christ is not God then we can not become god. This soteriology guided the Christological developments.


I meant to say in my last post that Seraphim spoke of adoption in his Conversation on the Holy Spirit. It causes us to cry ‘Abba, Father’.

Daniel Keating, who is a Latin Catholic and professor at Ave Maria, wrote a book called Deification and Grace. He sees deification as an essential aspect to Latin theology as well and his perception of deification is that there is an actual participation in the divine nature of Christ. Man is not called a god simply by analogy or as a title; there is an actual participation in God.

There has been a big revival of the idea of deification in western theology in the last 60 years or so. If you do a search on you will get a lot of sources examining deification in scripture, in particular saints (Cyril of Alexandria, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor, Nicholas of Cusa, Thomas Aquinas, and etc.), comparisons between east and west (there is a book called The Ground of Union by AN Williams which attempts to explain that Aquinas and Palamas are very compatible).

I don’t think you can draw such a sharp contrast between the Byzantine doctrine of deification and the Coptic doctrine because they are both built on the Alexandrian theology.


I was raised Roman, and my theological underpinnings were taught me by Dominican friars… most of my Byzantine theology is from Byz. Orthodox sources.

I’m not a cradle Byzantine.

  1. The “rapture” is not Catholic teaching/theologumenon/etc. but comes from certain strands of Protestantism.

  2. What do you mean by “become part of God”. If by that is meant that we somehow lose ourselves and/or individuality to become some collective conscience or just sort of melt into God (like some sort of return to the Source type of sci-fi), then that is not in line with Church teaching.


Dear brother jimmy,

The distinction actually lies in the anthropology, not necessarily the soteriology. According to St. Athanasius (representative of Coptic and Latin Tradition), man is naturally mortal, and Adam was immortal by grace. In other words, it is not in the nature of man to be immortal. What was lost at the Fall is the grace and man thus became mortal without this grace. Theopoiesis is the reacquisition of this grace of “godhood.”.

According to St. Basil (representative of Byzantine Tradition), man was made naturally immortal, but lost it due to the Fall. Theosis is a reacquisition of his original divine nature(of course, not on the level of God’s Essence).

The ends and means are the same. But the anthropology is distinct. I certainly don’t think that the distinction merits division, but it does merit recognition. I also think these are matters on the level of theologoumena (unless my Latin brethren can come up with something to the contrary).

In any case, as a Maronite, do you have any Syriac sources that shed some light on the matter?



All I can say about the Syriac sources on this matter is that St. Ephrem spoke of divinity as a garment. When Adam sinned, the garment was removed and he was naked. From what I understand he associates immortality with the divine nature. Also if you look at the prayer of Commixture in the Maronite liturgy you can see that immortality is proper to divinity.
You have united, O Lord, your divinity with our humanity
and our humanity with your divinity;
your life with our mortality
and our mortality with your life.
You have assumed what is ours,
and you have given us what is yours,
for the life and salvation of our souls.
To you, O Lord, be glory for ever.
Christ gives us His immortality just like He gives us His divinity.

I don’t think that Basil’s statement is representative of the Byzantine tradition on this matter. I have seen some Byzantine writers mention death as the result of the loss of the Grace of immortality.

From the little bit I have read on the matter, Basil’s conception of theosis isn’t the conception of modern Orthodox. He had a more moral conception of deification rather than a realist conception like Cyril. Modern Orthodox theosis was a development from the Cyrillian Christology and soteriology.

I don’t think Basil is representative of the Byzantine tradition on this matter.


Are you speaking of only the physical – as in we have to die a physical death – or also the spirit/soul?


Becoming part of God means being united to God by His divine energies. My Latin theology professor describes it as a fountain that continually flows. We are the fountain and the water is of course God’s creative activity or divine energies. The Byzantine tradition does not mean a loss of individuality or anything like that.


Dear brother Jimmy,

The analogy of clothing which was taken off seems in line with the Alexandrine Tradition that immortality is not natural to us. Thanks for the references!

[quote=]I don’t think that Basil’s statement is representative of the Byzantine tradition on this matter. I have seen some Byzantine writers mention death as the result of the loss of the Grace of immortality.

Yes, it is all of Grace, but I think the question still remains - did this Grace make man immortal in his nature, or is the Grace of immortality something outside of his nature?

[quote=]From the little bit I have read on the matter, Basil’s conception of theosis isn’t the conception of modern Orthodox. He had a more moral conception of deification rather than a realist conception like Cyril. Modern Orthodox theosis was a development from the Cyrillian Christology and soteriology.

I don’t think Basil is representative of the Byzantine tradition on this matter.

I don’t understand the distinction between “moral conception” and “realist conception.” Can you explain a bit more?


P.S. I am not an expert on this matter. I am going to invite a fellow CO to participate in this discussion, and I hope he accepts.


Is the Byzantine understanding that man was made immortal also due to grace?

I read of an early Church Council that talked about Adam being made immortal so how does that compare with Catholic teaching? It also linked sin to death. I understood it as not excepting the necessity of grace, I thought the point was simply that Adam was made in a state of grace and immortal from the start and sin took this away

I’m not sure if I’m understanding


Oops this thread is 8 years old! If anyone has any thought maybe we could continue it :slight_smile:


I’ve never heard it described as becoming part of God. Our essence certainly doesn’t change to divine. The way it was explained to me is that we share in God’s life - but without our essence changing to God’s Essence… I think that’s an important clarification


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