On Mormon Deification


This is an attempt to give an Orthodox response to an article responding to a Roman Catholic about the Mormon doctrine of deification. His basic argument is not involved with what the Fathers believed, but with certain philosophical issues he finds problematic. I am going to stick to what he considers "traditional Mormon doctrine" and trust his ability to discern that. I'm also going to try and avoid philosophical terminology as much as possible.

Also, this is a bit choppy (because I walked away from it many times), unresearched (because I spent no time looking anything up), and ignorant (because it's only based on things that I know about, and that's a small set of things). Also, it's poorly written. That's mostly because I'm not a very good writer. Especially when I write lazily like this. I really should read more before trying this sort of thing, but it helps me track my progress and get into the swing of things. I should also spend much more time on it to get a solid, cohesive response down -- which I suspect is part of the problem with Clark's post. But, I just ran across it today and I don't feel like putting too much work into it, so there. =P

In short, you probably don't want to read it. ;)

Clark's response to Brad: http://www.libertypages.com/clark/10767.html

Brad Hass's post: http://blog.defensorveritatis.net/?p=80

Summation of the Argument

Clark begins by arguing against the metaphor of special progression argument that Brad gives, where "God is of the same species as humans, but more advanced, like a butterfly to a catepillar", by stating that "Mormons conceive of the dual nature [of Christ] as applied to all people". In this way, "the divine is within all of us" already. But while he argues against the use of the special metaphor, he admits that "Mormon theology requires there be no ontological gap between our nature and God's". Because of their belief in the pre-existence and their rejection of creation out of nothing, both God and man are considered infinite by the Mormons. Clark touches on this because Brad mentions the uncaused and uncomposite nature of God. That is, "God is truly infinite, not caused by anything else, not composed of anything pre-existent, not needing anything to bring other things into being." Clark responds by arguing that, if Jesus had a fully human, yet limited, nature, and yet remained fully God, then there is also no limit to what man can be without "denying the incarnation".

I might be a bit amiss to not include a conflicting view that another Mormon, Blake, makes in the comments below. For Blake, one participates in the divine nature, and, because of that, a divine person and a normal person are two different types of things. This participation appears to be a relationship to divinity.

We participate in the divine nature -- we don't simply have it by being human. However, inherent in our nature is the possibility of divinity because we are beings capable of love -- but love in the divine sense of indwelling sharing of our life, light and intelligence. Thus, an individual human cannot be divine because the divine nature is necessarily a relation of persons having the nature that we do and a new nature -- a relational nature -- emerges if we keep the commandment to love one another as the divine persons love each other and us. Divine nature is thus necessarily a relationship of divine persons who are divine because: (a) they have a capacity for love and for divinity; and (b) they have freely chosen to be in such a loving relationship.

Clark also states that this difference appears to come out of the issue of creation from nothing, although it doesn't appear that he gives any reasons for this explicitly. I could dream up a few for him, but that wouldn't be fair to anyone. I would like to note that in the comments, Clark admits that rejecting creation out of nothing means that there are more limits on God than most people feel comfortable with. He also gives a few benefits to rejecting the doctrine.

The biggest benefit of rejection of ex nihilo is with the problem of evil. It resolves rather nicely the logical problem of evil and opens up fruitful avenues in the other kinds of problems of evil. For instance the main theodicy within Mormonism is that this life is necessary for our development. Because we are pre-existent souls not ultimately created by God, God is best seen within a potter metaphor. Thus God is limited in how he can change us. So both our mortal existence as well as the atonement are seen as being necessary due to God's limitations with respect to souls. Whereas I've typically felt that this life and the mission of Jesus didn't make a whole lot of sense within traditional Christianity.

Clark later comments about a Mormon understanding of the apostasy, namely that "Christianity went wrong fairly early and that ultimately the problem related to mixing Greek conceptions of God with Hebrew conceptions of God." He goes on to state that the "ultimate error of traditional Chrisitianity ... is to equate being with God," saying that, "Christianity took the approach of making an absolute division between God and creation."

Afterwards, the comments generally die into an argument about whether or not Mormons actually believe most of what I just quoted. My arguments will not stick to whether or not this is a Mormon doctrine, per se, but whether this explanation works.

My Response

While I find Clark's application of the dual-nature of Christ interesting, I don't think he escapes the metahpor he wishes to escape through his explanation. Natures have to do with kinds of things or types of being. Butterflies and caterpillars both share the same nature which both makes them what they are (say, Monarch butterflies) and makes them what they are not (say, dogs or cats or rocks). Clark has simply added another nature into the mix. But if we have the same nature(s) as God, how are we different kinds of beings from Him? Are we not simply saying that both God and man are simultaneously two things, namely divine and human?

Blake curbs this problem with his statement that man has a relationship with divinity and acquires the divine nature that way. However, I'm not quite sure how one has a relationship with their nature aside from simply being it -- that is, existing. I can definately participate in a relationship with persons or "instances" of a nature, but I cannot, to my mind, participate in a relationship with "being human".

What strikes me is the use of a philosophically loaded term, nature, without following the consequences of its use. If we have a divine nature, as did Christ, then we would already be divine persons (exactly like God) and death itself would have no hold on us. If and when we died, we would simply rise from the grave with our body as Christ did.

For Orthodox Christianity, saying that Christ has two natures means that Christ was both fully human and fully God. That's important for us because, after the fall, our natures, and the rest of the world, become diseased or broken. Through sin, humanity becomes corrupted and dies. Through sin, both spiritual and physical death enter the world. This is why the tree of life was blocked off from us. If we were to partake of it after the fall, we would have remained dead forever. Contrary to Clark's presumption about the Incarnation, the purpose was to assume a human nature so that it could be redeemed. It was not to obtain a divine nature, nor was it for the divine nature to consume the human nature, nor was it to awaken some latent divine nature in all of humanity. Through becoming human, God died, but because He was also God, he could not be held captive by death and rose. In Orthodoxy, there is no room for the concept of blood atonement as a form of divine justice because God is not the cause of death and does not need to be satisfied. He does not want us to "pay him back", but pays the wages of sin (ie. death), in spite of the fact that He has never sinned, so that he can destroy death through death.

Clark notes that humans and God are both infinite, but, depending on what he means, I'm not sure that Mormons can really make that claim. God, the Father, is still considered the begetter of all of us (perhaps with our rumoured Heavenly Mother). That means that we could not exist before God (although I suppose we existed as some form of "spiritual matter"). Regardless, we have to be "molded". Orthodoxy claims that God is from everlasting to everlasting. We may all endure from now until the end, but God has always existed. I'm don't think the same can be said for Mormonism since God becomes a composite and contingent being.

The rejection of "creation out of nothing" doesn't really get you anywhere in terms of the problem of evil, unless you presume that for evil to exist, God must have created it. But, as the first few chapters of Genesis go, everything God created was good. What gives? We are capable of doing evil. We have always been capable of performing evil acts. I don't see how that responsibility falls on God, although, on my reading, Adam certainly tries to blame God for giving him a defective woman that makes him do bad things, and she blames the snake. In my opinion, this argument is very childish, for it is just what a child would say when they did something wrong. Regardless, the argument also applies to the "potter" metaphor that Clark gives because God isn't the creator. After all, why didn't God create us such that we wouldn't do such bad things? It's really the same argument, just a less-powerful God.

Lastly, Clark talks about "Hellenization", or the mixing of Greek philosophy with Christianity, and brings up the belief Western Christianity tends to hold about God being the same thing as Being (or, rather, God as pure being). First of all, it seems easy to argue that greek philosophy was simply an intellectual context for people to discuss things in. Even in this very post that Clark makes, he uses Platonic concepts of "nature". But is he committed to it over his belief in, and desire to preserve, Mormonism? I doubt it. I also doubt the early church would have as well. Especially since most of the major heresies in the church had to do with people putting philosophy in front of the tradition. The arians, sabellians, marcionites, gnostics, monophysites, monophellites, origenists, and iconoclasts, to name a few, all actually took the logical consequences of their arguments instead of following the deposit of faith. Finally, Orthodox Christianity does not equate being with the essence or nature of God. That was actually at the heart of our dispute with the Roman church over the filioque.


I don't think the distinctions Clark makes get him anywhere. They don't remove the special metaphor, nor do they gain any philsophical or theological ground. In fact, I think they only go to show how problematic the Mormon worldview actually is. Mormons are left without a God that creates, without a need for the dual-nature of Christ in the Incarnation, and without a need or capability for salvation.