Deification in the works of St. Athanasius of Alexandria

By Antoun Rezk – Chanter (Epsaltos) in the Coptic Orthodox Church.


What Deification Is and Is Not

(from the Orthodox Study Bible)

“What deification is not. When the Church calls us to pursue godliness, to be more like God, this does not mean that human beings become divine. We do not become like God in His nature. That would not only be heresy, it would be impossible. For we are human, always have been human, and always will be human. We cannot take on the nature of God…

What deification is. Deification means we are to become more like God through his grace or divine energies. In creation, humans were made in the image and likeness of God according to human nature, In other words, humanity by nature is an icon or image of deity: The divine image is in all humanity. Through sin, however, this image and likeness of God was marred, and we fell.

When the Son of God assumed our humanity in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, the process of our being renewed in God’s image and likeness was begun. Thus, those who are joined to Christ, through faith, in Holy Baptism begin a process of re-creation, being renewed in God’s image and likeness. We become, as St. Peter writes, “partakers of the divine nature” (1:4).

Because of the Incarnation of the Son of God, because the fullness of God has inhabited human flesh, being joined to Christ means that it is again possible to experience deification, the fulfillment of our human destiny. That is, through union with Christ, we become by grace what God is by nature- we “become children of God” (Jn 1:12). His deity interpenetrates our humanity. 

Historically, deification has often been illustrated by the example of a sword in the fire. A steel sword is thrust into a hot fire until the sword takes on a red glow. The energy of the fire interpenetrates the sword. The sword never becomes fire, but it picks up the properties of fire.

By application, the divine energies interpenetrate the human nature of Christ. When we are joined to Christ, our humanity is interpenetrated with the energies of God through Christ’s glorified flesh. Nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, we partake of the grace of God-His strength, His righteousness, His love- and are enabled to serve Him and glorify Him. Thus we, being human, are being deified.”

Deification in the writings of St. Athanasius of Alexandria

For the reader’s convenience, I’ve compiled 26 quotes from St. Athanasius regarding Deification. They are below. For the original Greek and Arabic translations, please see link below:

1st Discourse Against the Arians:

1.) “Therefore, if, even before the world was made, the Son had that glory, and was Lord of glory and the Highest, and descended from heaven, and is ever to be worshipped, it follows that He had not promotion from His descent, but rather Himself promoted the things which needed promotion; and if He descended to effect their promotion, therefore He did not receive in reward the name of the Son and God, but rather He Himself has made us sons of the Father, and deified men by becoming Himself man” (1-38).

2.) “Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us” (1-39).

3.) “For how in that case can any at all know God as their Father? For adoption there could not be apart from the real Son, who says, ‘No one knows the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him (Matthew 11:27).’ And how can there be deifying apart from the Word and before Him? Yet, says He to their brethren the Jews, ‘If He called them gods, unto whom the Word of God came (John 10:35).’ And if all that are called sons and gods, whether in earth or in heaven, were adopted and deified through the Word, and the Son Himself is the Word, it is plain that through Him are they all, and He Himself before all, or rather He Himself only is very Son, and He alone is very God from the very God, not receiving these prerogatives as a reward for His virtue, nor being another beside them, but being all these by nature and according to essence. For He is Offspring of the Father’s essence, so that one cannot doubt that after the resemblance of the unalterable Father, the Word also is unalterable” (1-39).

4.) “For as Christ died and was exalted as man, so, as man, is He said to take what, as God, He ever had, that even such a grant of grace might reach to us. For the Word was not impaired in receiving a body, that He should seek to receive a grace, but rather He deified that which He put on, and more than that, ‘gave’ it graciously to the race of man” (1-42).

5.) “For the fact that the Lord, even when come in human body and called Jesus, was worshipped and believed to be God’s Son, and that through Him the Father was known, shows, as has been said, that not the Word, considered as the Word, received this so great grace, but we. For because of our relationship to His Body we too have become God’s temple, and in consequence are made God’s sons, so that even in us the Lord is now worshipped, and beholders report, as the Apostle says, that God is in them of a truth. As also John says in the Gospel, ‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become children of God (John 1:12);’ and in his Epistle he writes, ‘By this we know that He abides in us by His Spirit which He has given us (1 John 3:24).’ And this too is an evidence of His goodness towards us that, while we were exalted because that the Highest Lord is in us, and on our account grace was given to Him, because that the Lord who supplies the grace has become a man like us, He on the other hand, the Savior, humbled Himself in taking ‘our body of humiliation (Philippians 3:21),’ and took a servant’s form, putting on that flesh which was enslaved to sin. And He indeed has gained nothing from us for His own promotion: for the Word of God is without want and full; but rather we were promoted from Him; for He is the ‘Light, which lightens every man, coming into the world (John 1:9).’” (1-43).

6.) “And it is marvelous and overwhelming verily; for the grace which the Son gives from the Father, that the Son Himself is said to receive; and the exaltation, which the Son bestows from the Father, with that the Son is Himself exalted. For He who is the Son of God, became Himself the Son of Man; and, as Word, He gives from the Father, for all things which the Father does and gives, He does and supplies through Him; and as the Son of Man, He Himself is said after the manner of men to receive what proceeds from Him, because His Body is none other than His, and is a natural recipient of grace, as has been said. For He received it as far as His man’s nature was exalted; which exaltation was its being deified. But such an exaltation the Word Himself always had according to the Father’s Godhead and perfection, which was His” (1-45).

2nd Discourse Against the Arians:

7.) “For, as when John says, ‘The Word was made flesh (John 1:14),’ we do not conceive the whole Word Himself to be flesh, but to have put on flesh and become man, and on hearing, ‘Christ has become a curse for us,’ and ‘He has made Him sin for us who knew no sin ,’ we do not simply conceive this, that whole Christ has become curse and sin, but that He has taken on Him the curse which lay against us (as the Apostle has said, ‘Has redeemed us from the curse,’ and ‘has carried,’ as Isaiah has said, ‘our sins,’ and as Peter has written, ‘has borne them in the body on the wood ‘); so, if it is said in the Proverbs ‘He created,’ we must not conceive that the whole Word is in nature a creature, but that He put on the created body and that God created Him for our sakes, preparing for Him the created body, as it is written, for us, that in Him we might be capable of being renewed and deified.” (2-47)

8.) “For God not only created them to be men, but called them to be sons, as having begotten them. For the term ‘begot’ is here as elsewhere expressive of a Son, as He says by the Prophet, ‘I begot sons and exalted them;’ and generally, when Scripture wishes to signify a son, it does so, not by the term ‘created,’ but undoubtedly by that of ‘begot.’ And this John seems to say, ‘He gave to them power to become children of God, even to them that believe in His Name; which were begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God John 1:12-13.’ And here too the cautious distinction is well kept up, for first he says ‘become,’ because they are not called sons by nature but by adoption; then he says ‘were begotten,’ because they too had received at any rate the name of son. But the People, as says the Prophet, ‘despised’ their Benefactor. But this is God’s kindness to man, that of whom He is Maker, of them according to grace He afterwards becomes Father also; becomes, that is, when men, His creatures, receive into their hearts, as the Apostle says, ‘the Spirit of His Son, crying, Abba, Father. ‘ And these are they who, having received the Word, gained power from Him to become sons of God; for they could not become sons, being by nature creatures, otherwise than by receiving the Spirit of the natural and true Son. Wherefore, that this might be, ‘The Word became flesh,’ that He might make man capable of Godhead” (2-59).

9.) “For therefore did He assume the body originate and human, that having renewed it as its Framer, He might deify it in Himself, and thus might introduce us all into the kingdom of heaven after His likeness. For man had not been deified if joined to a creature, or unless the Son were very God; nor had man been brought into the Father’s presence, unless He had been His natural and true Word who had put on the body. And as we had not been delivered from sin and the curse, unless it had been by nature human flesh, which the Word put on (for we should have had nothing common with what was foreign), so also the man had not been deified, unless the Word who became flesh had been by nature from the Father and true and proper to Him. For therefore the union was of this kind, that He might unite what is man by nature to Him who is in the nature of the Godhead, and his salvation and deification might be sure” (2-70).

3rd Discourse Against the Arians:

10.) “Again, taking patterns for man from divine subjects, the Savior says; ‘Be merciful, as your Father which is in heaven is merciful Luke 6:36;’ and, ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).’ And He said this too, not that we might become such as the Father; for to become as the Father, is impossible for us creatures, who have been brought to be out of nothing; but as He charged us, ‘Be not like to horse,’ not lest we should become as draught animals, but that we should not imitate their want of reason, so, not that we might become as God, did He say, ‘Be merciful as your Father,’ but that looking at His beneficent acts, what we do well, we might do, not for men’s sake, but for His sake, so that from Him and not from men we may have the reward. For as, although there be one Son by nature, True and Only-begotten, we too become sons, not as He in nature and truth, but according to the grace of Him that calls, and though we are men from the earth, are yet called gods, not as the True God or His Word, but as has pleased God who has given us that grace; so also, as God do we become merciful, not by being made equal to God, nor becoming in nature and truth benefactors (for it is not our gift to benefit but belongs to God), but in order that what has accrued to us from God Himself by grace, these things we may impart to others, without making distinctions, but largely towards all extending our kind service” (3-19).

11.) “Wherefore the Son Himself, simply and without any condition is in the Father; for this attribute He has by nature; but for us, to whom it is not natural, there is needed an image and example, that He may say of us, ‘As Thou in Me, and I in You.’ ‘And when they shall be so perfected,’ He says, ‘then the world knows that You have sent Me, for unless I had come and borne this their body, no one of them had been perfected, but one and all had remained corruptible. Work Thou then in them, O Father, and as You have given to Me to bear this, grant to them Your Spirit, that they too in It may become one, and may be perfected in Me. For their perfecting shows that Your Word has sojourned among them; and the world seeing them perfect and full of God, will believe altogether that You have sent Me, and I have sojourned here. For whence is this their perfecting, but that I, Your Word, having borne their body, and become man, have perfected the work, which You gave Me, O Father? And the work is perfected, because men, redeemed from sin, no longer remain dead; but being deified, have in each other, by looking at Me, the bond of charity. ‘” (3-23).

12.) “For what the Word has by nature, as I said, in the Father, that He wishes to be given to us through the Spirit irrevocably; which the Apostle knowing, said, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ.’ for ‘the gifts of God?’ and ‘grace of His calling are without repentance. ‘ It is the Spirit then which is in God, and not we viewed in our own selves;and as we are sons and gods because of the Word in us, so we shall be in the Son and in the Father, and we shall be accounted to have become one in Son and in Father, because that that Spirit is in us, which is in the Word which is in the Father” (3-25).

13.) “Who will not admire this? Or who will not agree that such a thing is truly divine? For if the works of the Word’s Godhead had not taken place through the body, man had not been deified; and again, had not the properties of the flesh been ascribed to the Word, man had not been thoroughly delivered from them; but though they had ceased for a little while, as I said before, still sin had remained in him and corruption, as was the case with mankind before Him” (3-33).

14.) “For if you object to my being rid of that corruption which is by nature, see that you object not to God’s Word having taken my form of servitude; for as the Lord, putting on the body, became man, so we men are deified by the Word as being taken to Him through His flesh, and henceforward inherit life ‘everlasting’” (3-34).

15.) “Therefore this is plain to every one, that the flesh indeed is ignorant, but the Word Himself, considered as the Word, knows all things even before they come to be. For He did not, when He became man, cease to be God; nor, whereas He is God does He shrink from what is man’s; perish the thought; but rather, being God, He has taken to Him the flesh, and being in the flesh deifies the flesh” (3-38).

16.) “But if that He might redeem mankind, the Word did come among us; and that He might hallow and deify them, the Word became flesh (and for this He did become), who does not see that it follows, that what He says that He received, when He became flesh, that He mentions, not for His own sake, but for the flesh? For to it, in which He was speaking, pertained the gifts given through Him from the Father” (3-39).

17.) “And so in the Acts of the Apostles it is written, when He went upon the Angels, ascending as man, and carrying up to heaven the flesh which He bore, on the disciples seeing this, and again asking, ‘When shall the end be, and when will You be present?’ He said to them more clearly, ‘It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father has put in His own power Acts 1:7.’ And He did not then say, ‘No, not the Son,’ as He said before humanly, but, ‘It is not for you to know.’ For now the flesh had risen and put off its mortality and been deified; and no longer did it become Him to answer after the flesh when He was going into the heavens; but henceforth to teach after a divine manner, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own power; but you shall receive Power. ‘ And what is that Power of the Father but the Son? For Christ is ‘God’s Power and God’s Wisdom.’ (3-48).

18.) “(What moreover is this advance that is spoken of, but, as I said before, the deifying and grace imparted from Wisdom to men, sin being obliterated in them and their inward corruption, according to their likeness and relationship to the flesh of the Word?) For thus, the body increasing in stature, there developed in it the manifestation of the Godhead also, and to all was it displayed that the body was God’s Temple, and that God was in the body. And if they urge, that ‘The Word become flesh’ is called Jesus, and refer to Him the term ‘advanced,’ they must be told that neither does this impair the Father’s Light, which is the Son, but that it still shows that the Word has become man, and bore true flesh. And as we said that He suffered in the flesh, and hungered in the flesh, and was fatigued in the flesh, so also reasonably may He be said to have advanced in the flesh; for neither did the advance, such as we have described it, take place with the Word external to the flesh, for in Him was the flesh which advanced and His is it called, and that as before, that man’s advance might abide and fail not, because of the Word which is with it. Neither then was the advance the Word’s, nor was the flesh Wisdom, but the flesh became the body of Wisdom. Therefore, as we have already said, not Wisdom, as Wisdom, advanced in respect of Itself; but the manhood advanced in Wisdom, transcending by degrees human nature, and being deified, and becoming and appearing to all as the organ of Wisdom for the operation and the shining forth of the Godhead. Wherefore neither said he, ‘The Word advanced,’ but Jesus, by which Name the Lord was called when He became man; so that the advance is of the human nature in such wise as we explained above” (3-53).

De Decretis:

19.) “And as, when we hear of Him as Lord and God and true Light, we understand Him as being from the Father, so on hearing, ‘The Lord created,’ and ‘Servant,’ and ‘He suffered,’ we shall justly ascribe this, not to the Godhead, for it is irrelevant, but we must interpret it by that flesh which He bore for our sakes: for to it these things are proper, and this flesh was none other’s than the Word’s. And if we wish to know the object attained by this, we shall find it to be as follows: that the Word was made flesh in order to offer up this body for all, and that we partaking of His Spirit, might be deified, a gift which we could not otherwise have gained than by His clothing Himself in our created body, for hence we derive our name of men of God and men in Christ. But as we, by receiving the Spirit, do not lose our own proper substance, so the Lord, when made man for us, and bearing a body, was no less God; for He was not lessened by the envelopment of the body, but rather deified it and rendered it immortal” (14).

On the Incarnation of the Word: 

20.) “For He was made man that we might be made god; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality” (54).
De Synodis:

21.) “And again, if, as we have said before, the Son is not such by participation, but, while all things originated have by participation the grace of God, He is the Father’s Wisdom and Word of which all things partake, it follows that He, being the deifying and enlightening power of the Father, in which all things are deified and quickened, is not alien in essence from the Father, but coessential. For by partaking of Him, we partake of the Father; because that the Word is the Father’s own. Whence, if He was Himself too from participation, and not from the Father His essential Godhead and Image, He would not deify, being deified Himself ” (51).

Letter 59 to Epictetus:

22.) “On the contrary, the incorporeal Word made His own the properties of the Body, as being His own Body. Why, when the Body was struck by the attendant, as suffering Himself He asked, ‘Why do you smite Me (John 18:23)?’ And being by nature intangible, the Word yet said, ‘I gave My back to the stripes, and My cheeks to blows, and hid not My face from shame and spitting (Isaiah 50:6).’ For what the human Body of the Word suffered, this the Word, dwelling in the body, ascribed to Himself, in order that we might be enabled to be partakers of the Godhead of the Word. And verily it is strange that He it was Who suffered and yet suffered not. Suffered, because His own Body suffered, and He was in it, which thus suffered; suffered not, because the Word, being by Nature God, is impassible. And while He, the incorporeal, was in the passible Body, the Body had in it the impassible Word, which was destroying the infirmities inherent in the Body. But this He did, and so it was, in order that Himself taking what was ours and offering it as a sacrifice, He might do away with it, and conversely might invest us with what was His, and cause the Apostle to say: ‘This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality’ (1 Corinthians 15:53)” (6).

Letter 60 to Adelphius:

23.) “For the Flesh did not diminish the glory of the Word; far be the thought: on the contrary, it was glorified by Him. Nor, because the Son that was in the form of God took upon Him the form of a servant was He deprived of His Godhead. On the contrary, He is thus become the Deliverer of all flesh and of all creation. And if God sent His Son brought forth from a woman, the fact causes us no shame but contrariwise glory and great grace. For He has become Man, that He might deify us in Himself, and He has been born of a woman, and begotten of a Virgin, in order to transfer to Himself our erring generation, and that we may become henceforth a holy race, and ‘partakers of the Divine Nature,’ as blessed Peter wrote. (2 Peter 1:4) And ‘what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh’ (Romans 8:3)” (4).

Letter 61 to Maximus:

24.) “But once for all ‘at the consummation of the ages (Hebrews 9:26), to put away sin’ ‘the Word was made flesh John 1:14 ‘ and proceeded forth from Mary the Virgin, Man after our likeness, as also He said to the Jews, ‘Wherefore do you seek to kill Me, a man that has told you the truth ?’ And we are deified not by partaking of the body of some man, but by receiving the Body of the Word Himself” (2).

1st Letter to Serapion:

25.) “Further it is through the Spirit that we are all said to be partakers of God. For it says: ‘Know ye not that ye are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.’ If the Holy Spirit were a creature, we should have no participation of God in him. If indeed we were joined to a creature, we should be strangers to the divine nature inasmuch as we did not partake therein. But, as it is, the fact of our being called partakers of Christ and partakers of God shows that the unction and seal that is in us belongs, not to the nature of things originate, but to the nature of the Son who, through the Spirit who is in him, joins us to the Father. This John taught us, as is said above, when he wrote: ‘Hereby know we that we abide in God and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.’ But if, by participation in the Spirit, we are made ‘sharers in the divine nature’, we should be mad to say that the Spirit has a created nature and not the nature of God. For it is on this account that those in whom he is are made divineIf he makes men divine, it is not to be doubted that his nature is of God” (1-24).

26.) “In him the Word makes glorious the creation, and, by bestowing upon it divine lifeand sonship, draws it to the Father. But that which joins creation to the Word cannot belong to the creatures; and that which bestows sonship upon the creation could not be alien from the Son. For we should have otherwise to seek another spirit,’ so that by him this Spirit might be joined to the Word. But that would be absurd. The Spirit, therefore, does not belong to things originated; he pertains to the Godhead of the Father, and in him the Word makes things originated divine. But he in whom creation is made divinecannot be outside the Godhead of the Father” (1-25).


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