Modern LDS apologists like to cite passages from early patristic sources, asserting that the early fathers taught that men could become gods. Is this true? Did the early Church teach the Mormon doctrine of God? Did they believe that men could become gods like God, and that God Himself was once a man?
There are a number of passages in the early fathers that speak of men being “deified.” But what do these passages actually mean? Dr. G.L. Prestige commented:
All such expressions of the deification of man are, it must be remembered, purely relative. They express the fact that man has a nature essentially spiritual, and to that extent resembling the being of God; further, that he is able to attain a real union with God, by virtue of an affinity proceeding both from nature and from grace. Man, the Fathers might have said, is a supernatural animal. In some sense his destiny is to be absorbed into God. But they would all have repudiated with indignation any suggestion that the union of men to God added anything to the godhead. They explained the lower in terms of the higher, but did not obliterate the distinction between them. Not only is God self dependent. [sic] He has also all those positive qualities which man does not possess, the attribution of which is made by adding the negative prefix to the common attributes of humanity. In addition, in so far as humanity possesses broken lights of God, they are as far as possible from reaching the measure and perfection with which they are associated in the godhead. Real power and freedom, fullness of light, ideal and archetypal spirit, are found in Him alone. The gulf is never bridged between Creator and creature. Though in Christ human nature has been raised to the throne of God, by virtue of His divine character, yet mankind in general can only aspire to the sort of divinity which lies open to its capacity through the union with the divine humanity. Eternal life is the life of God. Men may come to share its manifestations and activities, but only by grace, never of right. Man remains a created being: God alone is agenetos [i.e., uncreated] (Prestige, pp. 74-75).
Note well what Prestige says. He asserts that the early Fathers did *not* “obliterate the distinction” between God and man (Mormonism most definitely does, teaching that God was once a man who has progressed to godhood). Prestige says that “real power and freedom” are found in God *alone*, not in the creature man. And, in as clear a denial of the concept that is presented by Mormonism (and that Evenson is attempting to substantiate) that one could find, Prestige says, “The gulf is never bridged between Creator and creature.” He closes by saying, “Man remains a created being: God alone is agenetos.” Clearly, Prestige is saying that the early Fathers did *not* teach that men could become gods *in the sense that Mormonism would like us to believe.*
Some leading ideas about the nature of God may be illustrated in a few quotations from early writers. Tatian writes (ad Gr. 4.1,2), “Our God does not have his constitution in time. He alone is without beginning; He Himself constitutes the source (“arce”) of the universe. God is spirit. He does not extend through matter, but is the author of material spirits and of the figures (“schemata”) in matter. He is invisible and in- tangible” (Prestige, p. 3).
Note that Prestige is giving what he views as *representational* views of the early Fathers. And what do we find? Do we find Mormon doctrine here? Hardly! Note the many things that are *directly* contradictory to LDS teaching. First, God is eternal, that is, he does “not have his constitution in time.” The LDS God has progressed to his current position–obviously, then, he undergoes a progression of time. Tatian states that God is without beginning; yet Mormonism speaks of God’s once having been a man, so, obviously, he had to enter into the condition of a god at some point in time. Tatian says God is spirit. Mormonism says He is flesh. Tatian says that God is the “author” of “material spirits and of the figures in matter.” Joseph Smith taught that “God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 354). Tatian says that God is invisible and intangible; Doctrine and Covenants 130:22 says just the opposite. We continue with Prestige:
Athenagoras (*suppl.* 10.1) expresses allegiance to “one God, the uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, uncontainable, comprehended only by mind and reason, clothed in light and beauty and spirit and power indescribable, by whom the totality has come to be.”…But, in brief, this statement implies that God is transcendent and everlasting; free alike from limitations of time or space and from subjection to sense or affections; and possessed of supreme supernatural power and glory. Theophilus speaks similarly (ad Aut. 1.3) of the abstract qualities of the deity. “The form of God is ineffable…in glory He is uncontainable, in greatness incomprehensible, in height inconceivable, in might incomparable, in wisdom without peer, in goodness inimitable, in well-doing indescribable…He is without beginning because He is uncreated, and He is unchangeable because He is immortal.” And again, (ib. 2.3), “it belongs to God, the highest and almighty and the truly God, not only to be everywhere, but also to overlook all things and to hear all things, and yet, nevertheless, not to be contained in space” (Prestige, p. 3).
We again note the completely different view of God presented here than that of Mormonism. The God of the early Fathers is uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, and uncontainable. The God of Mormonism entered into godhood at a particular point, he has not eternally been God, He is not invisible (in the sense the Fathers meant the term), he is certainly not impassible, incomprehensible, or uncontainable; many LDS *mock* these very aspects of the Christian doctrine of God.
But Prestige did not stop there. He continued on:
His absolute independence is a corollary to His absolute goodness and wisdom, as well as to His absolute capacity to create. Thus the emphasis…on God being uncreated (agennetos) implies that He is the sole originator of all things that are, the source and ground of existence ; and the conception is taken as a positive criterion of deity. The insistence that God is uncontained spatially (acoretos) conveys a very necessary warning against Stoic pantheism. Though the created universe contributes an implicit revelation of God through His works, it is by no means a complete or perfect revelation of His being; He is infinitely greater than His creation. Thus Justin claims (dial. 127.2) that God is uncontained either in one place or in the whole universe, since He existed before the universe came into being (Prestige, pp. 4-5). That all of this is directly contradictory to the LDS doctrine of a finite, limited God who has a physical body of flesh and bone (D&C 130:22) and who was once a man is too obvious to require further comment. The early Fathers did *not* believe in the God of Mormonism in any way, shape, or form.
One of the greatest patristic scholars, J. N. D. Kelly, has written,
The classical creeds of Christendom opened with a declaration of belief in one God, maker of heaven and earth. The mono- theistic idea, grounded in the religion of Israel, loomed large in the minds of the earliest fathers; though not re flective theologians, they were fully conscious that it marked the dividing line between the Church and paganism. According to Hermas, the first commandment is to `believe that God is one, Who created and established all things, bringing them into existence out of non-existence’. It was He Who `by His invisible and mighty power and great wisdom created the universe, and by His glorious purpose clothed His creation with comeliness, and by His strong word fixed the heavens and founded the earth above the waters’. For Clement God is `the Father and creator of the entire cosmos’ and for `Barnabas’ and the “Didache” `our maker’. His omnipotence and universal sovereignty were acknowledged, for He was `the Lord almighty’, `the Lord Who governs the whole universe’, and `the master of all things’. The reader should notice that at this period the title `almighty’ connoted God’s all-pervading control and sovereignty over reality, just as `Father’ referred primarily to His role as creator and author of all things (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 83).
But, so that no one thinks that we are simply citing authors who agree with us, below you will find a number of citations from early Christian sources on this very issue. The combined testimony of these Fathers is inarguable:
Ignatius to the Magnesians, (A.D. 110), 8:1
For that reason they were persecuted, inspired as they were by His grace to convince the disobedient that there is one God, who manifested Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is His Word proceeding from silence, and who was in all respects pleasing to Him that sent Him.
Aristides of Athens, Apology (A.D. 140), 1
I call the One who constructed all things and maintains them God: He that is without beginning and eternal, immortal and lacking nothing, and who is above all passion and failings such as anger and forgetfulness and ignorance and the rest.
Aristides of Athens, Apology (A.D. 140), 4
Let us proceed, then, O King, to the elements themselves, so that we may demonstrate concerning them that they are not gods, but corruptible and changeable things, produced out of the non-existent by Him that is truly God, who is incorruptible and unchangeable and invisible, but who sees all things and changes them and alters them as He wills.
Justin, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (A.D. 155), 5
For whatever things exist after God or will at anytime exist, have a corruptible nature, and are such as may be blotted out and no longer exist. God alone is unbegotten and incorruptible, which is why He is God. Everything else after Him is produced and corruptible.
Tatian, Address to the Greeks (A.D. 165), 4
Our God has no introduction in time. He alone is without beginning, and is Himself the beginning of all things. God is a spirit, not attending upon matter, but the Maker of material spirits and of the appearances which are in matter. He is invisible and untouchable, being Himself the Father of both sensible and invisible things. This we know by the evidence of what He has created; and we perceive His invisible power by His works.
Matter is not without a beginning, like God; nor is it of equal power with God, through being without a beginning. It is begotten, and not produced by any other begotten beings; but is brought into existence by Him alone who is the Creator of all things.
Athenagoras, Supplication for the Christians, (A.D. 177), 4
Is it not unreasonable to apply the name of atheist to us, who distinguish God from matter and teach that matter is one thing and God another, and that there is a great difference between them, the Deity being unbegotten and eternal, able to be known by reason and understanding alone, while matter is produced and perishable?
Athenagoras, Supplication for the Christians (A.D. 177), 10
I have sufficiently demonstrated that we are not atheists, since we acknowledge one God, unbegotten, eternal, invisible, incapable of being acted upon, incomprehensible, unbounded….
Irenaeus Against Heresies, (A.D. 190) 1:10:1
For the Church, although dispersed throughout the whole world even to the ends of the earth, has received from the Apostles and from their disciples the faith in one God, Father almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them….
We hold, however, the rule of truth, according to which there is one almighty God, who formed all things through His Word, and fashioned and made all things which exist out of that which did not exist….
Nor is He moved by anyone; rather, freely and by His Word He made all things. For He alone is God, He alone is Lord, He alone is Creator, He alone is Father, He alone contains all and commands all to exist.
It is easy to demonstrate from the very words of the Lord that He acknowledges one Father, Creator of the world and Fashioner of man, who was proclaimed by the Law and by the Prophets; and that He knows no other, this being God over all.
Of His own accord and by His own power He made all things and arranged and perfected them; and His will is the substance of all things. He alone, then, is found to be God; He alone is omnipotent, who made all things; He alone is Father, who founded and formed all things, visible and invisible, sensible and insensate, heavenly and earthly, by the Word of His Power.
…let them learn that to be without beginning and without end, to be truly and always the same, and to remain ever without change, belongs to God alone, who is Lord of all. All things, however, which are from Him, all that have been made and which will be made, receive each their own beginning of existence; and inasmuch as they are not unbegotten, in this way they are inferior to Him who made them. They perdure, however, and continue through a length of ages, according to the will of God their Maker; for indeed, He makes them to be in the beginning, and afterwards gives them continuance.
Tertullian, Apology (A.D. 197) 17:1
The object of our worship is the One God, who, by the Word of His command, by the Reason of His plan, and by the strength of His Power, has brought forth from nothing for the glory of His majesty this whole construction of elements, bodies and spirits; whence also the Greeks have bestowed upon the world the name KOSMOS. He is invisible, and yet He may be seen. He is intangible, and yet His presence is apparent through His grace. He is immeasurable, and yet He is measured by the human senses. He is, therefore, as real as He is great. In regard to other things, that which is able to be seen, to be touched, or to be measured is less than the eyes by which it is seen, than the hands by which it is touched, and the senses by which it is discovered. But what is truly infinite is known only to itself. Thus it is that the measure of God is taken, although He is really immeasurable. Thus it is that the force of His greatness makes Him known to men, although He is yet unknown. And this is the crowning guilt of men, that they do not want to know Him of whom they cannot be ignorant.
Tertullian, Apology (A.D. 197), 21:13
So also, that which proceeds from God is God and Son of God, and both are one. Likewise, as He is Spirit from Spirit, and God from God, He is made a second by count and in numerical sequence, but not in actual condition; for He comes forth from the source but does not separate therefrom.
Tertullian, The Demurrer Against the Heretics, 13:1
There is only one God, and none other besides Him: the Creator of the world who brought forth all things out of nothing through His Word….
Tertullian Against Hermogenes, 4:3
Whatever special property God has, it must necessarily be unique, so that it can belong to Him who is One. But what can be unique and singular except that to which nothing can be equated? What can be principal, if not that which is above all, if not that which is before all and from which all things are? It is by being the sole possessor of these qualities that He is God; and by being sole possessor, that He is One.
Tertullian Against Marcion, 1:3:1
Christian truth, however, has distinctly declared, “If God be not one, He does not exist”; for we more properly believe that that which is not what it must be does not exist at all. So that you may know, however, that God must be one, ask what God is, and you will find that such is the case. In so far as a human being is able to formulate a definition of God, I formulate such a definition as the conscience of every man may acknowledge; God is the Great Supreme Being existing in eternity, unbegotten, uncreated, without beginning, and without end.
Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 10:32
The one God, the first and only, both Creator and Lord of all things, had nothing coeval with Himself, neither infinite chaos, nor immeasurable water, nor solid earth, nor dense air, nor hot fire, nor gentle breeze, nor the azure roof of the great heavens. No, he was one, to Himself alone; and when He so willed, He created those things which before had no existence other than in his willing to make them and inasmuch as he had knowledge of what would be: for he has also foreknowledge. He first created, however, the diverse elements of the things which would come into existence, fire and air, water and earth, from which various elements he then made his own creation.
Origen, De Principiis, 1, Preface, 4
First, that there is one God who created and arranged all things, and who, when nothing existed, called all things into existence;
Origen, De Principiis (A.D. 220), 1:1:6
Since our mind is in itself unable to behold God Himself as He is, it knows the Father of the universe from the beauty of His works and from the elegance of His creatures. God, therefore, is not to be thought of as being either a body or as existing in a body, but as a simple intellectual Being, admitting within Himself no addition of any kind. Thus, He cannot be believed to have within Himself something greater and something lesser. Rather, He is in every part “monas” and, so to speak, “henas.” He is the mind and source from which every intellectual being or mind takes its beginning.
Origen, Ad Celsus, 1:23
How much more effective it is–and how better than all those invented explanations! –that when we are convinced by what we see in the excellent orderliness of the world, we then worship its Maker as the one Author of one effect, which, since it is entirely in harmony with itself, cannot, therefore, have been the work of many makers.
Novatian, The Trinity, (A.D. 235) 31
God the Father, founder and creator of all things, who alone knows no beginning, who is invisible, immeasurable, immortal, and eternal, is one God. Neither His greatness nor His majesty nor His power can possibly be–I should not say exceeded, for they cannot even be equaled.
Cyril, Catechetical Lectures, (A.D. 350), 6:11
Whence came the polytheistic error of the Greeks? God has no body: whence, then, the adulteries alleged among those whom the Greeks call gods?
Hilary, Commentaries on the Psalms, on Psalm 129, 3
First it must be remembered that God is incorporeal. He does not consist of certain parts and distinct members, making up one body. For we read in the Gospel that god is spirit: invisible, therefore, and an eternal nature, immeasurable and self-sufficient. It is also written that a spirit does not have flesh and bones. For of these the members of a body consist, and of these the substance of God has no need. God, however, who is everywhere and in all things, is all-hearing, all-seeing, all- doing, and all-assisting.
Didymus, The Holy Spirit (A.D. 375), 35
God is simple and of an incomposite and spiritual nature, having neither ears nor organs of speech. A solitary essence and illimitable, He is composed of no members and parts.
Ephiphanius, Against All Heresies, 70:5
Reject also the opinion of those who say the body is in the image of God. For how were it possible for the visible to be close to the invisible? How the corporeal to the incorporeal? How the tangible to the illimitable?
Chrysostom, Against the Anomoians, 4:3
For God is simple and non-composite and without shape….When, therefore, you hear that “no one has ever seen God,” consider it the same as hearing that no one can know God in an utterly perfect manner, as to His essence.
Cyril, Commentary on Psalm 11, 3
When the divine Scripture presents sayings about God and remarks on corporeal parts, do not let the mind of those hearing it harbor thoughts of tangible things, but from those tangible things as if from things said figuratively let it ascend to the beauty of things intellectual, and rather than figures and quantity and circumscription and shapes and everything else that pertains to bodies, let it think on God, although He is above all understanding. We were speaking of Him in a human way; for there was no other way in which we could think about the things that are above us.
Lactantius, The Divine Institutions, (A.D. 300), 2:8:8
But God Himself makes His own material, because He is able. To be able is a quality of God; and, were He not able, neither would He be God. Man makes things out of what already exists, because he is weak as a consequence of being mortal; and because of his weakness, he is of limited and moderate power. God, however, makes things from what does not exist, because He is strong on account of His eternity; and because of His strength, His power is immeasurable, having neither end nor limitation, like the life itself of the Maker.
Cyril, Catechetical Lectures, (A.D. 350), 4:4-5
First let there be laid as a foundation in your soul the doctrine concerning God: that there is one God alone, unbegotten, without beginning, unchangeable and immovable; neither begotten of another nor having another to succeed to His life; who neither began to live in time nor will ever cease to be; and that He is good and just….The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not circumscribed in any place, nor is He less than the heavens….He knows beforehand the things that shall be, and is mightier than all. He knows all, and does as He will. He is not subject to the consequences of events, neither to astrological geniture, nor to chance, nor to fate. He is in all things perfect, and possesses equally every absolute of virtue, neither diminishing nor decreasing, but remains ever the same and unchanging.
Hilary, The Trinity, (A.D. 356), 2:6
The Father is He to whom all that exists owes its origin. He is in Christ; and through Christ He is the source of all things. Moreover, His existence is existence in itself, and He does not derive His existence from anywhere else. Rather, from Himself and in Himself He possesses the actuality of His being. He is infinite because He Himself is not contained in something else, and all else is within Him. He is always beyond location, because He is not contained; always before the ages, because time comes from Him….God, however, is present everywhere; and everywhere He is totally present. Thus, He transcends the realm of understanding. Outside of Him there is nothing, and it is eternally His characteristic that He shall always exist. This is the truth of the mystery of God, of the impenetrable nature which this name Father expresses. God is invisible, unutterable, and infinite.
Gregory of Nazianus, Second Oration on Easter (A.D. 383), 45:3
God always way, and is, and will be: or better, He always is. Was and will be are portions of time as we reckon it, and are of a changing nature. He, however, is ever existing; and that is how He names Himself in treating with Moses on the mountain. He gathers in Himself the whole of being, because He has neither beginning nor will He have an end. He is like some great sea of Being, limitless and unbounded, transcending every conception of time and nature.
Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, (A.D. 383), Jaeger, 2:163
We judge it proper, therefore, to believe that that alone is truly divine whose existence is found to be eternal and infinite, and in whom all that is contemplated is ever the same, neither increasing nor diminishing.
Augustine, Sermons, (A.D. 391-430), 7:7
Being is a name of unchangeableness. For everything that is changed ceases to be what it was and begins to be what it was not. Being is. True being, pure being, genuine being is had only by Him who does not change.
Augustine, The True Religion, 25:46
The first decision to be made is whether we should prefer to believe those who call us to the worship of many gods, or those who call us to the one God. Who can doubt that it is preferable to follow those who call us to one, especially when those worshipers of many agree that this one God is the ruler of all others? And certainly, rank begins at one. Those, therefore, are to be followed first who say that there is only one supreme God, the true God, who alone is to be worshipped. If truth does not shine forth from them, then a change is to be made.
John of Damascus, The Source of Knowledge, 3:1:5
The Divinity is perfect and without defect in His goodness, in His wisdom, in His power, without beginning, without end, eternal, infinite, and to put it simply, perfect in every respect. If we were to speak of many gods it would be necessary to recognize a difference among the many. But if there is no difference among them, there is but one and not many. And if there were a difference among them, where then were their perfection?
[We believe] in one Father, the beginning and cause of all things, begotten of no one, but uncaused and unbegotten, alone subsisting; Creator of all things, but Father by nature of One only, His Only- begotten Son and our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ…There never was a time when the Father was and the Son was not; but always Father, always Son, who is begotten of Him; for one cannot be called father apart from a son.
It seems that the most authoritative of all the names spoken of God is “WHO IS,” as He did Himself say on the mountain in answer to Moses….For, since He holds all existence in Himself, He is like a sea of being, boundless and infinite.