So, here's the quiz. Which prominent Church leaders issued the following statements?
- "Do we cast blame on him [God] because we were not made gods from the beginning, but were at first created merely as men, and then later as gods? Although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, that no one may charge him with discrimination or stinginess, he declares, 'I have said, ye are gods; and all of you are sons of the Most High.' ... For it was necessary at first that nature be exhibited, then after that what was mortal would be conquered and swallowed up in immortality."
- "Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how a man becomes a god."
- "The Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods.... Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life."
- "He [Christ] became man that we might be made divine."
- "But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. 'For he has given them power to become the sons of God' [John 1:12] If then we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods."
A. Joseph SmithReady with your guess?
B. Brigham Young
C. Lorenzo Snow
D. Gordon B. Hinckley
E. Larry King
F. Mitt Romney
G. Saint Irenaeus
H. Saint Clement of Alexandria
I. Saint Athanasius
J. Saint Augustine
If you guessed anyone from A through F, I'm sorry! Larry King? Nice try, but you're still off by a few centuries. The correct answers are G, H, I, and J (details on these quotes are given on my LDS FAQ page on Gods, Mormons, and the Christian doctrine of theosis). These men were all early Christians - men who are accepted by all serious students of early Christianity not only as authentic Christians, but as prominent leaders, indeed, orthodox Christian saints. And like their latter-day peers, they accepted the early Christian doctrine of theosis - the concept that man could become like God.
Shocking stuff, the kind of thing that can get you cast out as a non-Christian cultist these days. But at least it's the best cult ever, as you can see at http://best.cult.ever.com. But as for me and my house, I'm sticking with the best Church ever (http://best.church.ever.com), led by the best Leader ever (http://best.Leader.ever.com)!
Yes, I know that men like Augustine probably did not understand theosis in the same way as Latter-day Saints do today, but we actually don't understand it that way either. By that I mean two things: (1) there is a broad diversity of belief about this doctrine in LDS circles, primarily because (2) we really don't understand much of anything in this area because so very little has been revealed.
A few significant things have been revealed in the scriptures, which do teach about the divine potential of man -- in spite of the protests and howl of the anti-cult crowd who reject anything different than the narrow traditions they have inherited, even when it is something precious from early Christianity lost over the centuries and now restored. For example, Christ's statement in John 10:34 ("Ye are gods...") is consistent with the rest of the Bible and with Latter-day Saint theology. According to the scriptures, we are here on this earth as part of a divine plan that can - if we follow Christ and fully accept his grace - allow us to do the following (quoting passages from the King James version of the Bible):
- To become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, being glorified together (Romans 8:14-18)
- As sons (and daughters) of God, to inherit all things that the Father has (Revelation 21:7)
- To become one with Christ, as Christ is one with the Father (John 17:20-23)
- To sit with Christ on His throne (Rev. 3:21)
- To receive a glorified, immortal body like the body that Christ has (Philip. 3:21)
- To partake of the divine nature and be given all things pertaining to life and godliness, receiving glory (2 Peter 1:3-4)
- To be made - in some way - like Christ when He returns (1 John 3:2)
- To be made kings and priests unto God and his Father (Rev. 1:6)
- As spirit children of God, to become partakers of his holiness (Heb. 12:9-10)
- To be exalted by God (1 Peter 5:6)
- To become perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48)
Another early Christians, Origen, had some similar thoughts. Let me first point out that the Bible bears witness of God the Father who is the "God of gods" (Deut. 10:17) and who said to mortals receiving the law that they are "gods" (Ps. 82:6 and John 10:33-35). But these "gods" are subservient beings, like angels, and are not the source of salvation to us. Thus Paul could say that there are "gods many," but to us there is but one God (1 Cor. 8:5-8), indicating a clear difference between "gods" and "God."
This is similar to Origen's approach, discussed below in a passage sent to me by Eugene Seaich in 1998, used with his permission):
"Men should escape from being men, and hasten to BECOME GODS" (Origen, Commentary on John, 29.27,29).Hope you all fared well on the quiz.
"Thou shalt resemble Him...having made thee even God to his glory"(Refutations, X.30).
Note that Origen's "gods" are THEOI. Both Clement and John called the Father HO THEOS, "the God" (with the definite article). Origen explains this important grammatical distinction by pointing out that The True God...is "the God" (HO THEOS, with the article), and those who are formed after him are "gods" (THEOI, without the article), "images," as it were, of him, the Prototype (Commentary on John, 7.2).
It is very likely that Lorenzo Snow's famous aphorism, "As man now is God once was; and as God now is, man may be," should also be interpreted in light of this critical distinction between HO THEOS and the other THEOI. President Snow's "God who was once a man" would accordingly belong to the same category as Origen's THEOI, those who have BECOME gods after the Father's Prototype. But his "God who now is" would be HO THEOS, the Prototype himself, or "the God of all other gods" (D&C 121:32), the one who has always been God (Ps. 90:2; D&C 20:12), and to whose eternal likeness all others aspire. Indeed, there can never have been a time when HO THEOS was not God, nor has he ever been anything but what he now is (Mormon 9:19; Moroni 7:22; D&C 20:17).
Wait - the critics are saying "Why hasn't he rolled out som eold, worn C.S. Lewis quotes?" Fooled you. They are coming!
LDS doctrine on this needlessly controversial issue is similar to the teachings of C.S. Lewis, who also understood the divine potential of humans beings. Here is a quote from his book, The Grand Miracle (Ballantine Books, New York, 1970), p. 85 (on the last page of the essay, "Man or Rabbit?" in Chapter 11):
The people who keep on asking if they can't lead a good life without Christ, don't know what life is about; if they did they would know that "a decent life" is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be remade. All the rabbit in us will be swallowed up - the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy. [emphasis mine]And from the same book, p. 65 (the last page of Chapter 8):
Christ has risen, and so we shall rise. St. Peter for a few seconds walked on the water, and the day will come when there will be a remade universe, infinitely obedient to the will of glorified and obedient men, when we can do all things, when we shall be those gods that we are described as being in Scripture.Here is a related quote from Lewis's book, Mere Christianity (Collier Books, MacMillan Publ. Co., New York, 1943; paperback edition, 1960; p. 160 - the last paragraph of Chapter 9, "Counting the Cost," in Book IV):
"The command Be ye perfect [Matt. 5:48] is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and he is going to make good His words. If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said."Where did the highly respected C.S. Lewis get such doctrine? Simple - he was a non-Christian pagan cultist, just like most of the earliest Christians. But he was somehow considered "mainstream" - unlike those who made the sad mistake of joining the Mormon cult. Some cults get treated better than others, that's all I can say.