I would like to deal now with a distinctive teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the doctrine of eternal progression, also known as the doctrine of deification or becoming like God. Nicene Christians use some of this terminology but mean something quite different. President Lorenzo Snow reduced it to a helpful paradigm: “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” What this basically means is that by the merits of Jesus Christ, a person may become righteous and obtain godhood—“what God is”. We might therefore have spiritual children of our own. The Heavenly Father himself is said to have done this, having another God above him, but he was exalted to godhood along with his wife, the Heavenly Mother. They are the two parents of all human beings and Mormons reason that the thing our parents want for us is that we might be like them. Mormons typically blame Greek philosophy for the inventions of Ex Nihilo, homoousion, aseity, divine simplicity, and the like. At first I thought that odd because the Greek gods are far more like the gods of Mormonism than the God of Nicene Christianity, but it actually makes logical sense. As a Catholic reading Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, I see how this paved the road for Christ. Now I will demonstrate the errors of eternal progression from Scripture. It is not fair, I admit, to argue with the Mormons entirely from the Bible, as neither Catholics nor Mormons go by the principle of Sola Scriptura. I believe it is written somewhere in the Book of Mormon, “Thou fool, that shall say: a Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? . . . Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another?” (2 Nephi 26:6,8) This is probably a warning to Catholics as well, as they also do not accept the Book of Mormon. Still, if the Church of Latter Day Saints is correct, the Bible cannot disagree with its doctrine, and the same is true for the Catholic Church.
“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” our Lord declares in Matthew 5:48. The Greek is τέλειος (téleios), which can mean also absolute, complete, or accomplished—but not generally, when talking about people, “deified”. We must become perfect in that we must become holy, loving, and righteous, unsullied by sin. It says nowhere, however, you must become omnipotent as your heavenly Father is omnipotent or you must become omniscient as your heavenly Father is omniscient.
2 Peter 1:14 states: “you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” I see why someone think that this might refer to eternal progression to an extent, because if we take the phrase “partakers of the divine nature” to mean “persons whose nature is entirely divine”, then the eternal progression is correct. We are partakers in the divine nature because we are infused with divine grace. We therefore receive the communicable aspects of God’s nature such as goodness, holiness, and love, but this does not mean we are actually divine. Therefore, partaking in the divine nature does not here pertain to what we are but simply what we are like. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 10:17, Paul states: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Are we to conclude that all who partake in the Lord’s Supper become the Savior of Mankind? St. John of Damascus argues “Let us . . . apply our eyes and lips and brows and partake of the divine coal, in order that the fire of the longing, that is in us, with the additional heat derived from the coal may utterly consume our sins and illumine our hearts, and that we may be inflamed and deified by the participation in the divine fire. Isaiah saw the coal. But coal is not plain wood but wood united with fire: in like manner also the bread of the communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity. But a body which is united with divinity is not one nature, but has one nature belonging to the body and another belonging to the divinity that is united to it, so that the compound is not one nature but two.” (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 4:13) In other words, when a pan or wood is put on a fire, it participates in the fire’s heat. The heat is what the fire has by nature but the heat is is what the pan has in participation of that nature. The pan becomes hot but it never becomes fire. The basic essences of the pan and the fire stay the same. This is what “becoming like God” or “deification” means in Nicene Christianity. For this reason, Paul says that “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16–17) Indeed, after a short suffering on earth, we will share forever in his glory and be glorified with him, seeing the Beatific Vision for all eternity. To quote St. Augustine, “It is evident then, that He has called men gods, that are deified of His Grace, not born of His Substance. For He does justify, who is just through His own self, and not of another; and He does deify who is God through Himself, not by the partaking of another. But He that justifies does Himself deify, in that by justifying He does make sons of God. ‘For He has given them power to become the sons of God.’ (John 1:12) If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods: but this is the effect of Grace adopting, not of nature generating. For the only Son of God, God, and one God with the Father, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, was in the beginning the Word, and the Word with God, the Word God. The rest that are made gods, are made by His own Grace, are not born of His Substance, that they should be the same as He, but that by favor they should come to Him, and be fellow-heirs with Christ. For so great is the love in Him the Heir, that He has willed to have fellow-heirs. What covetous man would will this, to have fellow-heirs?” (Exposition on Psalm 50:2)
“Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one,” says our Lord in John 17:11. We are to be one as the Father and Son are one insofar as it is possible, united by charity. In other words, we are called to imitate the love between the Father and the Son. As does not, however, In verse 18, our Lord says “As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Surely we cannot suppose that Christ wished them all to equally be the Savior of mankind with him! So also Jesus says: “He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21) For indeed we are actually to be glorified with God co-reigning in heaven, though we stay forever less to God as explained above.
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” said God.(Genesis 1:26) This is also stated in the LDS scripture Moses 2:27, “And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him.” It is often supposed by the Latter-day Saints that if man was made in God’s image, man has the potential to become a god. However, the Hebrew word בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ (bəṣalmênū) can mean nothing more than God’s resemblance. For this reason, this word is frequently used to refer to idols, although certainly an idol made in the image of a calf is not the same as a calf, nor indeed can a statue of a calf some day become a calf outside of Pinocchio. We are made in the image of God in that he has actually given us the ability to love, create, and choose the good. We cannot, however, become the exact same as God.
“Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” says God after they had eaten the fruit of the Tree. (Genesis 3:22) Latter-day Saints usually argue that that this suggests that the process of deification was already underway. First of all, this occurred when they sinned against God. Divinity is received when a man lives uprightly according to the Latter-day doctrine. It can only be supposed that the tree did not give knowledge Adam and Eve mere knowledge, which is something they already had by virtue of being rational animals. Rather they thought it gave them legal authority to determine what is good and evil. “ ‘Disobedience’,” says Pope St. John Paul II, “means precisely going beyond that limit, which remains impassable to the will and the freedom of man as a created being. For God the Creator is the one definitive source of the moral order in the world created by him. Man cannot decide by himself what is good and what is evil – cannot ‘know good and evil, like God.’ ” (Dominum et Vivificantum 36) Thus God punished them.
“You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you,” Asaph writes (Psalm 82:6). First we must remember verse 7: “nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.” The idea seems to be more along the lines of: You are gods now, but when you die you will be judged as men rather than you are men with the potential to become gods if you have been judged to have lived uprightly. Jesus explains when he quotes this verse in John 10:35, “he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken)”. So those “gods” are the ones who acted under God’s authority. He quoted this to give an argument they could not answer. However, our Lord shows that he is the Son of God in quite a different way. In the next three verses he says: “Do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Hence they still picked up stones to kill him.
Interestingly enough, Mormons are more likely to quote the Bible than the Book of Mormon about this doctrine, so even if I did accept the Book of Mormon as scripture, I would not be being that unfair to the Mormons by not dealing with it.
Isaiah 43:10-12 states: “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses.”A Mormon would argue on account of the word “formed” that God is forbidding man from the inventing of false gods, particularly the fashioning of idols. Indeed, in the following chapter God expressly condemning worship of graven images, but the reason he gives is that no God was formed before him or nor will be after him whatsoever. The same Hebrew word, yatsar | יָצַר, is used in Genesis 2:7 where it says, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground.” Certainly we cannot suppose that Adam was an inanimate object. If God is an exalted man, then it seems that there was a point in which God was formed and the a point at which the god who made him was formed. And if we take nor shall there be any after me to simply be a command for the Jews to follow, that they should not invent gods of their own other than the true God, why did God say before me no god was formed?
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable,” says Isaiah 40:28. And again Isaiah 44:6–7 states, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it, let him declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be.” And in Ephesians 4:6 Paul says: “There is . . . one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” A Latter-day Saint would say that God was simply saying that he was the only God for the children of Israel to worship, but there seem to be four gods in which Mormons believe—the Father, the Mother, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now in Hebrew, the name of God here is YHWH, which is rendered in older translations as Jehovah. According to LDS theology, Jehovah (or Yahweh) is the premortal name of Jesus. (D&C 110:3–4) Now, Jesus may have been the main God (according to Mormonism) of the Old Testament. However, it would be wrong to say that the Father was not also present. According to the LDS Scriptures, Moses said to Satan: “Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten. And he also gave me commandments when he called unto me out of the burning bush, saying: Call upon God in the name of mine Only Begotten, and worship me . . . Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory.” (Moses 1:17–18,20) It seems that it was the Father to whom Moses spoke on the mountain. It seems that Mormons also worship the Heavenly Mother, seeing her equal in honor to the Father. Mormons do not pray to her directly, but as President Gordon B. Hinckley explains: “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” President Rudger Clawson explains: “It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections.”1 Elder Melvin J. Ballard says: “No matter to what heights God has attained or may attain, he does not stand alone; for side by side with him, in all her glory, a glory like unto his, stands a companion, the Mother of his children. For as we have a Father in heaven, so also we have a Mother there, a glorified, exalted, ennobled Mother.”2 So provided that these two men’s words reflect orthodox LDS doctrine (which I assume, considering their titles), they seem to hold the Mother in equal esteem as the Father. As quoted above, Clawson says they even “adore” her. So what is worship other than to hold someone in equal esteem with God? If I understand LDS doctrine incorrectly, write to me in the comments or email me about it, but it appears to me that there are at least three or four gods. A Mormon would say that they are technically one God together since they are united for a common purpose, but they still seem to be three beings (or four if we count the Heavenly Mother). Still I do not think God would say: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2–3) but rather “You shall have no other gods before us”.
Still, that does not explain John 1:3, “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” I imagine a Mormon would say this simply refers to all things on this world, but it does not say “all things on this world were made through him” but simply “all things were made through him”. John emphasizes this further by adding a negative “without him was not anything made that was made.” It seems that God himself was not made and he made everything. If this is true he cannot be an exalted man.
“There will be no other God, O Trypho, nor was there from eternity any other existing, but He who made and disposed all this universe. Nor do we think that there is one God for us, another for you, but that He alone is God who led your fathers out from Egypt with a strong hand and a high arm. Nor have we trusted in any other (for there is no other), but in Him in whom you also have trusted, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.”
St. Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 11 (A.D. 155)
“He (the Creator) made all things freely, and by His own power, and arranged and finished them, and His will is the substance of all things, then He is discovered to be the one only God who created all things, who alone is Omnipotent, and who is the only Father rounding and forming all things, visible and invisible, such as may be perceived by our senses and such as cannot, heavenly and earthly, ‘by the word of His power,’ Hebrews 1:3 and He has fitted and arranged all things by His wisdom, while He contains all things, but He Himself can be contained by no one: He is the Former, He the Builder, He the Discoverer, He the Creator, He the Lord of all; and there is no one besides Him, or above Him, neither has He any mother, as they falsely ascribe to Him . . . But there is one only God, the Creator — He who is above every Principality, and Power, and Dominion, and Virtue: He is Father, He is God, He the Founder, He the Maker, He the Creator, who made those things by Himself, that is, through His Word and His Wisdom — heaven and earth, and the seas, and all things that are in them.”
St Irenaeus Against Heresies 2:30:9 (A.D. 189)
“There is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth.”
Tertullian Prescription Against Heretics 13:1 (A.D. 200)
Bonum Certamen Certemus
I am the Catholic of Honor
All Bible verses are from the Revised Standard Version
1“Our Mother in Heaven,” Millennial Star 72, September 29, 1910
2Sermons and Mission Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, 205