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In Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic theology, theosis, meaning divinization (or deification or, to become god), is the call to man to become holy and seek union with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in the resurrection. Theosis comprehends salvation from sin, is premised upon apostolic and early Christian understanding of the life of faith, and is conceptually foundational in both the East and the West.

  • Alternative spellings: Theiosis, Theopoiesis, Theōsis
  • Related terms: Consecration, Deification, Divine Union, Sanctification

Eastern Orthodox theology Edit

St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, "The Son of God became man, that we might become God." His statement indicates the concept beautifully. What would otherwise seem absurd, that fallen, sinful man may become holy as God is holy, has been made possible through Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate. Naturally, the crucial Christian assertion, that God is One, sets an absolute limit on the meaning of theosis - it is not possible for any created being to become, ontologically, God, or even part of God.

Through theoria, the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, human beings come to know and experience what it means to be fully human (the created image of God); through their communion with Jesus Christ God shares Himself with the human race, in order to conform them to all that God is in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. Theosis also asserts the complete restoration of all people (and of the entire creation), in principle. This is built upon the understanding of the atonement put forward by Irenaeus, called "recapitulation".

For many fathers, theosis goes beyond simply restoring people to their state before the Fall of Adam and Eve, teaching that because Christ united the human and divine natures in his person, it is now possible for someone to experience closer fellowship with God than Adam and Eve initially experienced in the Garden of Eden, and that people can become more like God than Adam and Eve were at that time. Some Orthodox theologians go so far as to say that Jesus would have become incarnate for this reason alone, even if Adam and Eve had never sinned.

All of humanity is fully restored to the full potential of humanity because the Son of God took to Himself a human nature to be born of a woman, and takes to Himself also the sufferings due to sin (yet is not Himself a sinful man, and is God unchanged in His being). In Christ, the two natures of God and human are not two persons but one; thus, a union is effected in Christ, between all of humanity and God. So, the holy God and sinful humanity are reconciled in principle, in the one sinless man, Jesus Christ. (See Jesus's prayer as recorded in John 17.)

This reconciliation is made actual through the struggle (podvig in Russian) to conform to the image of Christ. Without the struggle, the praxis, there is no real faith; faith leads to action, without which it is dead. One must unite will, thought and action to God's will, His thoughts and His actions. A person must fashion his life to be a mirror, a true likeness of God. More than that, since God and humanity are more than a similarity in Christ but rather a true union, Christians' lives are more than mere imitation and are rather a union with the life of God Himself: so that, the one who is working out salvation, is united with God working within the penitent both to will and to do that which pleases God. Gregory Palamas affirmed the possibility of humanity's union with God in His energies, while also affirming that because of God's transcendence and utter otherness, it is impossible for any person or other creature to know or to be united with God's essence. Yet through faith we can attain phronema, an understanding of the faith of the Church.

The journey towards theosis includes many forms of praxis. Living in the community of the church and partaking regularly of the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, is taken for granted. Also important is cultivating "prayer of the heart", and prayer that never ceases, as Paul exhorts the Thessalonians (1 and 2). This unceasing prayer of the heart is a dominant theme in the writings of the Fathers, especially in those collected in the Philokalia.

See also: Desert Fathers, Hesychasm, Maximus the Confessor, Monasticism

Union with God in Catholic traditions east and west Edit

In western Catholic theology, theosis refers to a specific and rather advanced phase of contemplation of God. [1] The process of arriving to such a state, or moving toward it (as arrival there is not necessary for salvation), involves different types of prayer which are recognized as beneficial. Various stages of prayer life are recognized as being likely to occur should a person respond to faith by moving along the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways. See ascetical theology.

Some western writers refer to theosis using the same implications given above. It is common to find western writings that flatteringly suggest that eastern spirituality uniquely manifests theosis, and that by implication their own tradition never attained to the idea. This may be a case of rhetoric obscuring fact. Under different terminology the western spiritual traditions, which also reach to the origins of Christianity (in the East), share the objective of sharing in the life of God. Some Catholic writers consider it lamentable that the term theosis is not used more extensively in western theology.

It is, therefore, misleading to attribute to Eastern Orthodoxy a special insight into the possibility of union with God: from a western point of view, the theological difference between east and west is rhetorical. Whether or not eastern liturgies are more conducive to theosis is another matter. In the west there has been much discussion of the merits of the Novus Ordo Missae, and some traditionalists claim that the Tridentine Mass is particularly conducive to the kind of prayer life that leads one along toward theosis. Virtually all spiritual books of any consequence published in the west manifest overt awareness of all the issues comprised in theosis (some books may focus on specific stages and treat unitive themes more briefly).

Protestant use of the term "theosis"Edit

Early during the Reformation, thought was given to the concept of union with Christ (unio cum Christo) as the precursor to the entire process of salvation and sanctification. This was especially so in the thought of John Calvin.[2] Theosis as a concept is used among Methodists [3], and elsewhere in the pietist movement which reawakened Protestant interest in the asceticism of the early church, and some of the mystical traditions of the West. Distinctively, in Protestantism theosis sometimes implies the doctrine of entire sanctification which teaches, in summary, that it is the Christian's goal, in principle possible to achieve, to live without any sin (Christian perfection). In 1311 the Council of Vienne declared this notion, "that man in this present life can acquire so great and such a degree of perfection that he will be rendered inwardly sinless, and that he will not be able to advance farther in grace" (Denziger §471), to be a heresy; which sets that Protestant version apart from the Eastern Orthodox teaching. Because Protestants cannot be immersed in Holy Tradition, without ceasing to be Protestant, their concepts of praxis, phronema, ascetical theology, and sacraments are inherently different from both, Catholic and Orthodox understandings. However, when they are attracted to, and imitate the idea of theosis, it may illustrate a commonality of objective or hope.

Deification in MormonismEdit

Main article: Exaltation (Mormonism)

The doctrine of theosis or deification in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differs significantly from that of orthodox Christian theology (note, not only Eastern Orthodox). In Mormonism it is usually referred to as exaltation or eternal life. Exaltation is to become, through the sacrifice of Christ, is to become a co-inheritor with Jesus in all that the Father possesses. As children of God we are enabled to become one with God as Jesus is one with God. One difference between this belief and the theosis of Orthodoxy is that the LDS believe the Father and the Son are separate and distinct beings.

While the primary focus of Mormonism is on salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ, exaltation goes beyond mere salvation. All mankind will be saved from death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and most from sin, but only those who are sufficiently obedient and accept the atonement of Jesus Christ before the judgment will be exalted.

Biblical Verses Describing TheosisEdit

Romans 12:1–2: We are to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice,” doing so as part of our spiritual worship. And we are to “be transformed” by the renewing of our minds into the likeness of God.

1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:17: We are reminded that we are God’s “temple” and that “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him”—union with God.

Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Philippians 1:21: “For me, to live is Christ.”

Colossians 3:3: We have “died” and our lives are “hidden with Christ in God”—total participation in Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:23: May God “sanctify you completely”—complete conformity to the image and likeness of God.

2 Thessalonians 2:14: We were called by God “for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 John 4:17: “Because as He is, so are we in this world”—the possibility of deification, total participation in Christ this side of eternity.

John 17:22: In His high priestly prayer, Jesus says that He has given us the glory that the Father gave Him.

Revelation 21:7: At the beginning of the eschaton, Christ says of each of us, “I will be his God and he shall be My son.”

1 John 3:2: “We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Philippians 3:21: Christ will “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.”

External linksEdit


  • The Divinization of the Christian According to the Greek Fathers, by Gules Gross (ISBN 0736316000)
  • Catechisim of the Catholic Church Article 3 pg 116, (ISBN 0-8198-1519-5)
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